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Starting a business in Leeds: Duke Studios

The creative co-working space offers an insight into Leeds' start-up community and why it's a location for people to be "excited about"...

Company name: Duke Studios
Founders: Laura Wellington and James Abbott-Donnelly
Founded: 2011
Description: Duke Studios provides creative space in the heart of Leeds; the space is a hub of collaboration and creativity for those who crave a unique working environment with different levels of workspace to meet diverse creative needs and varying budgets. It has grown into a multidisciplinary enterprise housing 45 resident businesses.

What’s great about starting a business in Leeds?

For us, Duke Studios had to be in Leeds. Abbot-Donnelly studied in Bradford and Wellington in Leeds. We fought pretty hard not to be sucked away to other cities after graduating, where the lights were brighter and the opportunities better – which happened a lot to our friends and peers at the time.

We all had studios that were in the wrong end of town/weren’t great places to be and we just wanted to bring people together in a city centre location that we could be proud of and people could be excited about.

What business support in Leeds have you used? How was it?

We haven’t accessed any business support but not from lack of trying. It was a quite a big idea back then, which was completely new to what anyone had done before so we really struggled to find people that understood what it was that we were trying to achieve.

I also think that creative industries need a different type of business support and that definitely wasn’t available in the city. We’ve had to find out so much stuff for ourselves, which obviously isn’t a bad thing, but we now try our best to help as many businesses as we can to help them get to where they want to be quicker.

Name the top three reasons to set up a business in Leeds: 

  1. Leeds is a young energetic and accessible place – its open and not scared of new things.
  2. Leeds is a big player nationally but its physical size means the people of Leeds really do care about the city and where it's heading. As a start-up or a new venture you can really make a big impact, plus it’s physically and logistically really easy to get around!
  3. Everyone is really lovely and we all try to look after each other as much as possible – it's not hard work to be here, which means we get a really good work/life balance!

Where could Leeds be better / what does it need?

I think that Leeds doesn’t tell its story well enough! There’s so many things happening here and I just think that it would be really great to see that story being told nationally and internationally.

How easy has it been to access finance to grow?

In the beginning it wasn’t easy at all, we couldn’t access any traditional finance. We went through banks and the enterprise finance schemes and they all said no, even when we had guarantors sat behind us saying that they would secure the lending.

Investors said we were too young, the business was too speculative and as we were a couple in a relationship; that the business wasn’t secure. At that time we weren’t eligible for any funding as our particular business fell through the cracks of all the frameworks. To date we have entirely funded Duke Studios through non-traditional arrangements with friends and family this has been profit shares, loans offering better returns than their savings and skill swaps.

Where do you go to network in Leeds?

The creative sector networks differently to others. We don’t really do formal networking events where you give out business cards etc. we network digitally using Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and we go to lots of talks and events.

Where do you take a client for a business lunch/ meeting?

We use local independent bars, cafes and restaurants. The size of the city centre means you can venture right across town for a meeting so we use lots of different places!

Where’s great for a company night out?

We throw quite a lot of parties in Duke and we also go to other people’s studios to hang out. If not we can be found in one of the many great independent places to eat and drink in Leeds – there’s actually too many to list!


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