Southampton – your new starter home?

Think start-ups, think London. The capital’s new business stats are undeniable.

With at least 70 co-working spaces, 40 startup incubators and accelerators, it’s little surprise that London-based start-ups command three quarters of all VC investment in the UK. The European Digital City Index rated London the continent’s number one start-up destination.

Some statisticians put London’s new business growth rate at 10 per day, others believe that figure is nearer 20. Indisputably, across the board, London has quantity on its side. But when it comes to quality, a new start-up player is emerging on the south coast.

When would-be entrepreneurs look beyond the commercial buzz of the capital, they’ll find that Southampton is more than measuring up with its northern neighbour. In its success stories; in quality of life and in opportunities on the ground, Southampton is proving a big draw for young businesses that want to get ahead.

A 2016 Tech Nation report found that Southampton businesses’ average turnover rate grew 180% per year – the biggest such rate in the UK. Favourable rents, a high-spec local talent pool and an abundance of natural and academic attributes definitely help.

The same Tech City report describes Southampton as “a rapidly growing cluster … (in) digital media and entertainment, hardware and devices and data management.”

No wonder. It’s an hour from London and it plugs straight into the UK’s main transport arteries. The ferry and airport links that attach the city to mainland Europe help to explain why this is a city where over 80% of businesses enjoy overseas trade.

The report measures Southampton’s productivity per worker at £171,720 per year – that’s the fourth highest in the UK and a key indicator of the city’s superior motivation levels. This may have something to do with the city’s quality of life. In 2013, PricewaterhouseCoopers named Southampton as having the best quality of life in the country. In 2016, the Quality of Life Index lauded Southampton’s high purchase power – a city where household earnings remain way above the national average.

In 2016, The Sunday Times’ Best Places to Live list was topped by Winchester; a stone’s throw from Southampton.

The sports, the nightlife, the culture and green space are doubtlessly a draw for the entrepreneur, but so are the city’s colleges and universities. The University of Southampton, the older of the city’s two universities, ranks among the top 15 research institutions in the country.

Then there’s the University of Southampton Science Park and its Catalyst Incubator Programme. Named one of the city’s key assets by Tech Nation, The University of Southampton Science Park is an award-winning workspace, providing cutting edge facilities and support so that tech and science businesses can thrive. From global pharmaceuticals giant, Merck, to one-person enterprises in their infancy, there’s a richly diverse spread of interests and businesses on campus at the Science Park.

The Catalyst Centre is an in-house incubator initiative that was opened in 2012 and is affiliated to global number one university business incubator, SETsquared. It offers a nurturing environment and support for entrepreneurs as they journey from idea to execution. Within five years it was named in the Sunday Times Start-up 100 list, and its businesses have, to-date, received over £6m in investment funds.

The Centre opens its doors to a new intake every year. During the six-month-long incubation, a cohort of up to eight companies can access a generous timetable of workshops, lectures and one-to-one coaching; growing their personal skills in tandem with their businesses.

Facilitating all sessions are Catalyst’s mentors: a network of top business coaches and advisers – who have achieved success locally, nationally and internationally – eager to share their experience and expertise with tomorrow’s entrepreneurs.

Steve Bedford, for example, is the Founder and former CEO of children’s superstore Build-A-Bear Workshop. With 25 years’ experience at both public organisations and FTSE companies, he is a respected business leader who is delighted to impart his experience to Catalyst entrepreneurs.  

Likewise, international cleantech pioneer, Sandra Sassow – who has won both ‘Eco Entrepreneur of the Year’ and ‘Enterprising Woman of the Year’ awards – is on-hand to share her experience with young businesses in the local ecosystem.

The Catalyst Centre is one of the few incubators in the UK that doesn’t take an equity stake in its businesses. The centre’s main motivation is expanding the local economy and ensuring the region can continue to grow and self-sustain. When Catalyst companies graduate on the Science Park they’re given the opportunity to continue tapping into – and feeding – newer generations of entrepreneurs in Southampton.
So if you love green, a bit of space, some coastline, cheaper rents and business facilities that are second to none, it’s worth heading south to set up shop. Think start-ups, think Southampton. 

If you’ve got a great business idea, apply to the Catalyst Programme.