Brighton has many advantages over London for small businesses and startups. For a start, there’s the prospect of leaving the office and going straight to the beach for after-work drinks.
Then there’s the concentration of over 35,000 students from two universities in a relatively small area, providing a constant stream of new talent into the area. And while rents in the city are rising fast, living here is still more affordable than in many places in London.
One thing that Brighton businesses are lacking, however, is a thriving local venture capital industry to support them. According to economist Douglas McWilliams, the growth of London’s tech industry has been driven partly by a rise in investment from venture capitalists in the City – financiers who invest in early-stage and startup companies in the hope of making a profit when these firms expand.
In his book ‘The Flat White Economy’, McWilliams notes that the volume of venture capital deals in London has grown by 70% since 2008, and that the city now boasts at least five accelerators or ‘laboratories’ providing financing and support to technology companies.
Unfortunately, this situation has not been replicated in Brighton. Although our city by the sea has a burgeoning tech industry, it is so far lacking the investment infrastructure seen in the metropolis.
However, there are signs that this might be starting to change, as the Coast to Capital LEP recently committed £5 million towards helping local companies access the finance they need to grow and create jobs.
Elsewhere, the city looks set to gain a new business accelerator that will provide support as well as superfast broadband and office space to startups. Natwest-sponsored company Entrepreneurial Spark are gearing up to launch the ‘Hatchery’ this summer in Preston Road, with CEO Jim Duffy commenting, “Brighton is undoubtedly a very happening place with an excellent culture and mindset. We can’t wait to see what we can accomplish.”
The Sussex Innovation Centre (SInC), a business incubator based at the University of Sussex’s campus in Falmer, is also set to open a new base next to Brighton station.
The ‘Silicon Beach’ tech industry has a way to go before it matches the £416 million in venture capital funding raised by London-based technology startups in the first three months of 2015. But with a growing infrastructure of incubators and accelerators, and an emerging reputation as a hub for digital innovation, it’s surely a matter of time before Brighton becomes the number one destination for investors as well as tourists.