Birmingham has always had a unique proposition for any company looking to invest in the area and particularly for entrepreneurs and start-ups. The USP by tradition has always been a powerful supply chain infrastructure supporting all areas of manufacturing and allied services. However, is this true in 2016 for Tech start ups?
Until recently the answer was an emphatic no. Okay Digbeth was a small glimmer of light where fragile tech fledglings could gather together for warmth, but there were no other hubs of creative sparks, just a few individual stars dotted across the region. However, things are changing. The infrastructure is improving, the services and the assistance from advisory bodies and funders is becoming more distinct and forthcoming, and certainly the business media is starting to sense something is happening.
Longbridge, Pebble Mill and several other sites are offering top classoffice space with advantageous rates and services. Digbeth is maturing nicely with The Bond, Custard Factory and other facilities for the more creative sorts. But a real indicator of how things are changing was the opportunity I had recently to visit a really exciting facility for Tech Startups sited in the Colmore district: yes, really!
Sited on St Philips' Place, (the path connecting Snow Hill and House of Fraser), you can’t miss an impressive building sporting the RBS logo, only it’s not a bank, it’s an RBS funded Enterprise Hub. The Hub is called ‘Entrepreneurial Spark,’ (Powered by Natwest, now part of RBS of course). I had popped in to visit the Co-Founder of Svelte, a startup and someone taking on the ‘Big U’ (that’s Uber to you and me). And like any entrepreneur, he’s committed and driven, with the first round of major funding almost secured. But I wanted to know if being sited in the centre of Birmingham was his first choice and how much the RBS facility influenced his decision.
"For us, Birmingham is the best place where we could have started our (ad)venture. It has a vibrant city centre and its universities attract students from a broad range of cultures and nationalities. You can find like-minded people just by going to a meet up event of your choice or by applying to a local incubator.
Speaking of which, we had the opportunity to join NatWest’s Entrepreneurial Spark local hatchery in February. It’s a 6 month startup incubator full of workshops, networking events, one-to-one mentoring - not to mention that you’re part of an entire cohort of more than 50 new businesses. It's great." Andrei Stroescu Co-Founder of Svelte
A quick word with RBS marketing confirmed that this is indeed part of a structured, first level support plan specifically for Tech startups in areas of high promise, placing them in the middle of the action. RBS can obviously see the value in their investment and other support services are also making their presence known there, now including Catalyst, my marketing agency.
I mentioned in a recent blog arguing the case for investing in Birmingham, that the big players need to get involved to support innovation, this from RBS is exactly what is needed. And when you spend some time in the RBS Hub complex, it’s impressive, there’s synergy and drive and an impressive list of entrepreneurs. Some of these will really fly, but they need support. I am hoping that this is just the start of a real renaissance for entrepreneurial zeal in Birmingham, it could do the whole city a whole lot of good. Birmingham could be a real startup city!
When you consider all of these resources, establishing and running a startup can be a pleasant experience. However, marketing it can be very challenging.