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Small Business Birmingham: How the UK’s second city came out on top

Adams Moore

With an ‘EU exit’ now delayed for the foreseeable future, small businesses up and down the country will be wondering how, when, or even whether to invest at all during a time of such economic uncertainty.

While Brexit-proofing should remain high on any SME’s list of priorities, where a small business is based in the UK could have a significant impact on an start-up’s future success once we officially find ourselves within a post-Brexit era.

Perhaps surprisingly, the Small Business Index 2019 from mobile payments platform SumUp revealed that Birmingham was in fact the best place for a UK small business to be based.

Analysing 100 of the most populous cities in Europe, the index observes several factors that make certain locations ‘the best environment for enterprise’ – from the availability and price of rent to government subsidies and initiatives.

With Spanish cities Valencia and Barcelona ranking number one and five respectively, Birmingham came in at number ten (just behind Prague) as the place to be for SMEs.

So what is it exactly that makes the nation’s second city the ‘promised land’ for UK businesses?

Generation re-growth As one of our most populated cities (now approximately home to over 1.2 million), Birmingham – along with a string of northern regions – has experienced a period of rapid regeneration over the past 30 years.

Thanks to this period of expansion, the Greater Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership (GBSLEP) recorded rates of un-employment dropping to 5.6% in the final quarter of 2018 – from 10.3% in 2010.

With a continued growth of 20% between 2010 and 2017 – higher than the average for UK cities during this time – the performance of the local economy has led to the creation of new jobs to support this era of progress.

Centre for Entrepreneurs data also confirmed the city’s status as a hotspot for start-ups, with 18,590 SMEs founded during 2017 alone – an increase of 9.7% compared to the national average of 4.7%.

A home for entrepreneurs

With great emphasis on support for start-ups, Birmingham offers bright minds (both young and old) a place to learn and grow from within.

From local initiatives and meet-ups to business incubators, existing entrepreneurs are keen to help guide their fellow SMEs down the path to success.

One such example includes city entrepreneur Mike Bandar who, along with running his own media and marketing business Turn Partners, has used his experience to mentor groups in the local area.

Working with Newman, BCU and Aston universities through the ‘BSEEN’ programme, Mike coaches students and graduates across a variety of sectors looking to launch their business into the spotlight.

Featured as part of Birmingham Live’s 30 Under 30 campaign in 2018, Bandar is one of many local success stories that continue to drive and inspire the Birmingham community.

Start-ups in the spotlight

Not only did Birmingham win 10th place as most thriving SME hotspot in Europe, but it has continued to rank highly in the UK as the most popular location for start-ups outside of London.

On Birmingham’s entrepreneurial spirit, Mayor for the West Midlands Combined Authority Andy Street explained: “It’s never been more important to focus on driving growth in our great regions, and Birmingham is leading the way with more small businesses being created than any other regional city.”

Thanks to world-class accelerator schemes and affordable rent combined with access to global markets, initiatives like GBSLEP’s Growth Hub are dedicated to supporting growing businesses within the community.

Launched in 2015, it has thus far provided 500 start-ups with a space to seek advice, funding and innovation tactics so that they may expand and seek to fulfil their full potential.

What’s on the horizon?

From hosting the Commonwealth Games in 2022 to the ongoing construction of High Speed 2 (HS2), Birmingham continues to cement itself as an exciting place for start-ups to call home.

With the first passengers setting foot on HS2 in 2026 – and a Curzon Street to Euston travel time of just 45 minutes – such monumental projects represent huge opportunity for Birmingham SMEs.

The West Midlands Combined Authority’s HS2 Growth Strategy ensures that local businesses receive better access to finance and tailored funding streams in order to invest in capabilities required to work with HS2, and thus capitalise on development in the long run.

Birmingham City Council’s Business Growth Programme has already helped grow more than 500 SMEs, generating £40m of private sector development.

With many exciting things in the pipeline, it’s no wonder Birmingham SMEs needn’t set their sights too far.