How to grow your business in New York

UK businesses are being welcomed with open arms to New York, a city buzzing with entrepreneurial energy and huge opportunity

UK businesses are being welcomed with open arms to New York, a city buzzing with entrepreneurial energy and huge opportunity

Business runs through the veins of New York City. Since the Dutch founded it as a commercial trading post in 1624, NYC has been one of the most vibrant, entrepreneurial and exciting cities on the planet. The city has one of the world’s largest international business communities and its mayor Michael Bloomberg is making overtures to smaller, fast-growth businesses like yours. Is it time for your business to start spreading the news?

If you’re thinking about expanding to NYC, you’re in good company. There are more than 2,800 international firms with presences in NYC and they employ 275,000 people; one out of 10 private sector jobs in NYC is with a foreign company. Last year New York was ranked as the most attractive city for business and innovation, above Paris, Tokyo and London, according to Japan’s Mori Memorial Foundation’s second Global Power City Index.

London to NYC

The city itself is certainly looking to attract more international fast-growth firms. An initiative from the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) – The World to NYC – aims to promote trade and investment between NYC and the global economy by hosting business delegations from cities around the world. It has partnered with Glasshouse, a UK membership group for entrepreneurs, on the first of these visits.

Next month, a group of small, fast-growth British businesses will spend a week in New York learning as much as possible about how to expand into the city. Richard Edwards, managing director of Glasshouse, says the trade mission will give entrepreneurial UK businesses the tools to be able to land in New  York and get up and running very quickly.  “It can be tough to do that unless you have an inside track or a helping hand,” he says.

Delegates will learn about the layout of the city, be introduced to the business community, and meet influential people who could help in the growth of their business.

“So for an advertising business, for example, you might want to meet senior guys in publishing. We’ll create roundtable events with senior representatives of relevant industries and our group will be able to interact with them and set up further meetings, so they can start meaningful conversations,” adds Edwards.

Creative centre

Edwards also notes that although NYC should be a serious consideration for any business wanting to access the US market, there are a few sectors the city is particularly keen on attracting: technology (“NY has arguably lost out a bit on tech and is trying to play catch-up,” says Edwards), fashion, retail, financial services, green, bioscience and media.

Reggie James is founder and managing director of digital advertising agency Digital Clarity, founded in 2003. For him, opening a New York office last year was a no-brainer. “NYC has always been the hub of the advertising industry worldwide, and we believed having a foothold there would help add weight to the company’s activities in the UK, as well as open up new revenue streams in a mature market,” he explains. “We also believed it would be advantageous to be close to the sales and marketing hubs of the major search and social media companies.

“But, essentially, New York is one of the main creative centres for our kind of business. There is a very large talent pool and access to an enormous range of major brands. Many of the industry’s most important events take place in the city.”

It was a previous trade visit to NYC – Digital Mission NY – that gave James the confidence and know-how to venture to the US. 

“They organised a great line-up of expert contacts. We also met UK companies who were already established in NY, and were able to learn from their experiences directly. In addition, speakers from major brands such as Twitter, Pepsi, and Google talked to us specifically about the importance of working in NY and the links between there and London.”

James now describes the visit as “invaluable”, noting that it provided delegates with top quality new contacts and led to a number of new business opportunities, accelerating the processes and helping overcome hurdles with advice on issues such as company formation and accounting procedures.

Entrepreneurs welcome

Jos White is the co-founder of venture capital firm Notion Capital and also founded IT security business MessageLabs, which was sold to Symantec for $700m in 2008. He first started working in NYC with MessageLabs after realising there was an appetite for the product in the US. He agrees that as a launch pad to the US, NYC is the ideal choice, both for its proximity to the UK and – for his company – for it being a base for the financial services companies that were a key sector.

He also found that as a tech company, the US had many benefits over the UK.  “If we wanted to list, at that time, technology companies just weren’t listing on the UK stock market. The US was the place to be and we had to establish and build our business in the US to have real credibility in the eyes of the public markets.”

A lot is said about the more entrepreneurial attitude in the US as compared to the UK. Reggie James notes:  “NYC has a far more entrepreneurial approach than London, from meet-up and networking groups, to small business forums, tech-hub funding, seed capital investors – it’s all there, and all very active. That’s not to say London doesn’t have its equivalents, but NY is operating on a different level.”

White adds that the general attitude towards risk makes life easier for any company seeking investment.  “The American style of investment looks towards early stage businesses and is prepared to take risks and support them long term; this is what we aim to do at Notion Capital,” he says.  “The UK tends to have a more negative and safety-first mentality that doesn’t have the confidence to believe in its innovation – although I do believe this has started to change, particularly in the tech and internet space.”

Taking the leap

With NYCEDC, as well as Glasshouse, investing substantial time and money into attracting fast-growth businesses, the appetite for UK entrepreneurial firms remains huge in New York. For this reason Glasshouse’s Richard Edwards is keen to show the city the best of the UK’s entrepreneurial firms.  “What New York wants to see is more companies located there, bringing with them all the attendant benefits – jobs, money etc. So we’re looking for companies who want to establish a base within six months of the programme. It’s unlikely to be two guys in a cupboard with an idea – it’s people with a solid trading history in the UK who are in position to expand.”

Companies that make the leap aren’t guaranteed to land safely, but for those that do, the advantages are plentiful. Adrian Kinnersley, managing director of Twenty Recruitment Group, says:  “New York is a level playing field and wherever you or your company originates from seems to be irrelevant. Your service and product dictate the appetite to deal rather than anything else.

“New York and the US in general is an amazing place to do business,” adds White.  “It’s positive, it’s dynamic and it’s a complete meritocracy.” 

He adds a note of caution, warning that generally it’s difficult to charge as much for your product in the US, and that it’s a market where businesses have to rely on scale to make money – “you need to make a reasonably large investment and be patient,” he says. “Secondly, the US is the largest and most demanding market in the world and you will need to be prepared to improve in everything you’re doing to be successful. But there is no question that if you can get over here and be successful it is a key step towards becoming a global leader.”          


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