Wanting to build your own tech startup? Leeds may hold the key to success

Clarence Digital

28/09/16

As the economy is slowly getting back on its feet, a whole host of budding entrepreneurs around the United Kingdom and, indeed, the wider world, are now looking to try their hand at starting their own company. Whilst the ideas are there for a wide range of tech start-up companies to take off, a great number of creative minds are still stuck wondering how to get their projects off the ground.

It can be a huge challenge to put the framework in place to ensure that a start-up is a success. In the early stages it is often almost a necessity to find some external funding or outside support to ensure everything goes smoothly. But how exactly does one secure that kind of help? 

In 2016, perhaps the smartest decision a new start-up company can make is to set up in the city of Leeds. A northern powerhouse with a proud history of industry, the city is now experiencing something of a technological revolution and is becoming a magnet for companies and businesses from across the country.

By being at the centre of this new technological hub, start-ups can experience the rapidly growing influence of Leeds and enjoy the vast array of services on offer that can help any new company stand on its own two feet.

Leeds: The new magnet for technological start-ups

Although the UK has a number of perhaps more established tech hubs, Leeds is on course to outpace a whole host of its competitors and become one of the go-to places even beyond British shores. Whilst it is true that London and its Silicon Roundabout, as well as the likes of Manchester, Newcastle, and Bristol and Bath, are all well-known tech hubs in the UK, Leeds is more than just the new kid on the block.

The West Yorkshire giant is arguably the big winner of a governmental scheme to decentralise a number of industries, including tech, from London and kick start a northern revival. 

The past decade has seen a number of key government departments relocate to Leeds, whilst the city itself has undergone an intense period of redevelopment and branding to make it one of the hottest new places in the business world right now. Such is the success that property consultancy Knight Frank recently declared Leeds to be “a centre of digital excellence”.

The big hitters already based in Leeds

Leeds already enjoys a stellar history of being a tech hub, with several high-profile companies calling the UK’s third biggest city by population home. Rockstar Games, developers of the hugely popular Grand Theft Auto video game series, are based in the city and it is from here that they have built a company that has brought in more than $2 billion in revenue from selling over 225 million copies of their games.

Meanwhile, CallCredit, betting powerhouse William Hill, and nationwide supermarket ASDA are all based in Leeds and the tech side of each is causing major waves in the job market of the city.

Elsewhere, telecoms giants Sky have gotten in on the act and shown that Leeds is a city well worth investing in. Sky have recently looked to create a technology centre, bringing in more than 400 jobs, in addition to their existing operations base in the city. “With our investment in Leeds, we are creating one of the largest digital communities in the UK,” claims Sky Group Chief Executive Jeremy Darroch.

Such is Leeds’ strength, in 2016 it hosted the second Software Engineering Academy, four years after the first was held in London. The Academy looks to promote young tech minds by offering apprenticeships, training, and job opportunities to create software. Its presence is yet another reason for start-ups to consider Leeds as the ideal place to set up shop.

Tech City Insider reports that Leeds has the fourth biggest tech sector outside of London and its superb infrastructure has allowed it to become a specialist in the areas of, fintech and data science, as well as health analytics. In terms of the latter, Leeds has the highest concentration of health data assets in the UK and is amongst the best in the world. Meanwhile, the city is the only place outside of London with its own internet exchange system outside of the capital; IXLeeds.

The helping hand every new company needs and where to find it in Leeds

Whilst putting together a start-up, particularly in the tech-sector, can be hugely rewarding, there are a number of stumbling blocks and difficulties that are likely to be encountered along the way. Ensuring that the business is fully operational and has the infrastructure and secure base to make it can be a huge concern for any budding entrepreneur, regardless of what industry they may be looking to break in to.

In 2015, Forbes indicated the around 90% of start-ups fail within the first year of business. Whilst that percentage is certainly startling and may be enough to put a number of people off from launching a start-up, failure can be avoided if the correct support is sought out.

However, what this support amounts to varies from industry to industry. To give a start-up the best chance of making it beyond the initial 12 months, finding an accelerator or an incubator can be instrumental. Similarly, proven support groups can also go a long way towards building a solid foundation and gives any budding start-up the opportunity to forge vital connections within the tech community.

This has been taken on board in Leeds, with the city now playing host to a number of support networks and initiatives to kick-start new tech companies. The Silicon Drinkabout in Leeds, as well as Agile Yorkshire, Northern UX, and Forefront, are just some of more than two dozen initiatives that draw an ever growing audience at their regular meetings, according to Tech City Insider.

Meanwhile, start-ups in the city can count on the presence of Tech North for crucial early funding to lay the groundwork for success. Likewise, the Business Growth Programme offers grants of between £10,000 and £50,000 for new companies looking to either set up in the city or relocate from elsewhere.

Incubators and accelerators are the way forward for tech start-ups 

Perhaps a slightly more difficult grant to attain, but one that can prove highly valuable, is the Growing Places Fund, which looks to support businesses that expect to bring economic and employment growth to the area. The £35 million is in it’s fourth round of funding at the moment and has a budget of £6 million to lend to a number of businesses, to the tune of anywhere between £500,000 and £1 million, according to Startups.co.uk.

Likewise, one of the most prominent accelerators in the financial technology sector can be found in Leeds in the shape of Dotforge. It has been described as the UK’s first regional financial technology accelerator and offers start-ups the opportunity to secure office space, mentoring and networking, as well as the all-important funding.

The options for start-up companies is widened even further by the presence of the ever-expanding angel network the Yorkshire Association of Business Angels (YABA), with a network of more than 140 angel investors and support investments of up to £300,000. This can be of great benefit in getting a new tech start-up off the ground and ensuring the ground work is in place for the company to focus on other crucial aspects.

How the government can support tech start-ups 

It is not only local initiatives that have made Leeds the go-to city for new tech start-ups however. Indeed, it was one of three receivers of an £11 million British government funding grant to develop technology hub in the city.

On an even grander scale, the Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership (LEP) secured a £1 billion ‘Local Growth Deal’ with the UK government from 2015 to earl 2016, which entails the creation of more than 8000 new jobs and investment into the development of start-ups across the city. As part of the LEP’s initiative, the local Aire Valley Leeds enterprise zone will undergo a drive to promote the development of new businesses.

Meanwhile, in Autumn of 2016, the British government announced plans to pump around £50 million over the next five years into start-ups who link up with two new cyber innovation centres. This comes as part of the government’s £1.9 billion National Cyber Security Programme, according to Computer Weekly.

It represents a fantastic opportunity for a number of Leeds-based cyber security specialist start-ups to make their mark in an industry which raked in £1.8 million in exports in 2015, and became worth £22 billion.

Being a part of the new look Leeds could pay dividends for any tech start-up

Any new tech start-up can be riddled with teething problems, not least finding the ideal location to kick-start what is hoped will be the next big thing in the industry. However, the government and tech community in Leeds have ensured that the city is the place to be for any new company looking to make its mark.

The city is riding a wave of positivity and serious investment, with huge sums of money being poured in to ensure that Leeds continues its rapid ascent towards being one of the most important hubs in Europe and, indeed, the wider world. The West Yorkshire city has been one of the big winners of government initiatives and is amongst the best places for tech start-ups to be based.

With heavy hitters such as Rockstar Games and Sky already calling the city home, start-ups will be in good company and can benefit from wide-reaching and determined support networks to ensure they can break into the tech industry.

Likewise, a number of well-established incubators and accelerators play a crucial role in enticing and supporting tech start-ups, particularly as they look to survive the all-important initial 12 months of operation. With such a concerted effort to make Leeds a tech hub coming from all sides, the city is a prime location for any tech start-up wanting to break into the industry.

Indeed, the support, financial and otherwise, on offer alone is worth being based there. However, adding the forward-thinking nature, the ever-developing city centre and the attention being lavished upon it, Leeds is the perfect package for any tech start-up worth its salt.