Category: Growthinvestment

New business is up and quality of life is high, proving Plymouth has all that a thriving small business community needs.

Plymouth is a valued location for start-ups and growing businesses in the UK. Net business growth in the city is up 12.2% since 2011, with 825 new companies, according to the UK Business Counts report from the Office for National Statistics (ONS). The city is 18th in this year’s list of the top 25 places outside London for start-ups, and micro-businesses make up 84% of companies in the region. Plymouth has an employment rate of 74.8% and, according to the Plymouth Manufacturers’ Group, the city has the highest concentration of manufacturing and engineering jobs in the South of England. Tech Nation named Plymouth in 2017’s top 10 fastest growing digital clusters – facilitated by the fifth best broadband – in the UK. All of which contributes to a fertile environment for SMEs.

The city’s businesses also benefit from proactive support services. The inward investment team at Plymouth City Council helps businesses access affordable real estate; grants and support; business networks; and skills. “You can benefit from our objectivity, local knowledge and contacts to help you find the best location for your business,” says Sheldon Ryan, the council’s innovation and business relationship manager. “We have produced business support guides for start-ups to access local business grants and support, and a guide for existing companies to ensure Plymouth businesses don’t miss out. Our team is experienced and well connected, and can help with introductions to networks, clusters and supply chains.”

World class

Plymouth University also takes a proactive role in local business promotion. It founded the Growth, Acceleration and Investment Network (Gain) to accelerate the creation, growth and investment in businesses and ideas in the South West. “One element of Gain is Enterprise Solutions, a gateway to accessing the university’s internationally renowned research expertise, world-class facilities and business services,” says business development co-ordinator Janet Medland. “Start-up support is available on campus through the Formation Zone and at the Science Park. Formation Zone is perfect for those who have a business idea they want to explore in a supportive, collaborative environment.” Among notable Formation Zone alumni is Miles Noble of Altitude Design, shortlisted for start-up entrepreneur of the year in the Great British Entrepreneur Awards.

The university partners with the council in running Plymouth Science Park, the South West’s largest science and technology centre, which Medland says is “home to an ever-expanding range of businesses in the medical, science, technology and knowledge-based sectors, all of which are supported with comprehensive on-site facilities and business support”.

“We help entrepreneurs via peer mentoring, access to professional networks, skills building and informal work sharing and referrals”

Rob Wick, founder, Thinqtanq

Additional support comes from the Heart of the South West Growth Hub, which provides a central business advice and referral service. “We have a local, dedicated advisory team on hand to answer questions, provide diagnosis and to make referrals to specialist business support providers on topics such as funding opportunities, marketing, finance, exporting and innovation,” says marketing officer Emily Herbert.

To date, it has engaged with over 2,875 businesses in the area, including Hannah’s Games, which makes quirky card games for parties. Leaving her teaching job to run the company full time, managing director Hannah Daragon found she needed additional acumen, so signed up to the Growth Hub’s Growth Support Programme, including a diagnostic review and mentoring. “The support I have received has been transformative,” said Daragon. “Working from my spare room can be quite insular and it was nice to read about my business from an external report. If you don’t grow yourself, you’re not going to grow your business.”

Calculating space and talent

The city hosts an impressive tally of co-working spaces and innovation hubs. Among those taking advantage of the fact that business space in Plymouth costs 35% less than in the South East is Thinqtanq, which aims to offer a unique incubation location. “We help entrepreneurs via peer mentoring, access to professional networks, skills building and informal work sharing and referrals,” says founder Rob Wick. “Thinqtanq creates an environment where small businesses and sole traders can work for themselves, but not by themselves.”

Organisations based at Thinqtanq include Borrow Don’t Buy, a new project to create a library of things in Plymouth allowing people to access the things they need without major investment. After a recent crowdfunding campaign raising more than £11,000, and supported by Plymouth City Council and the Dartington School for Social Entrepreneurs, the plan is to deliver the service in 2018.

With the third best quality of life of Britain’s 20 largest cities, ranked in 2010’s Sustainable Cities Index, there’s no shortage of workers to fuel Plymouth’s businesses, while the ONS reported that labour costs were 22.5% less than London in 2016. The city produces 5,000 new graduates a year to feed its 107,800-strong workforce. “Plymouth has a vibrant student community and businesses are working hard to increase student retention. Great nightlife and low cost of living combined with history and a burgeoning arts and cultural sector help,” says Wick.

“The university can help find the talent for employers with a graduate scheme; an SME looking for specialist knowledge; or an entrepreneur wanting part-time marketing or systems support,” says Medland. “Employers can manage their vacancies on our jobs board; engage with the university on its Employer Mentoring Programme; make use of its interview and assessment centres; get involved with presentations and skills sessions; or take on an industrial work placement student.”

Wick adds: “Plymouth University is obviously a huge contributor into the talent pool but Plymouth is also attracting people from across the world who are starting new and exciting ventures. In the old days, the dockyard was seen as the only place to work. These days there’s a sense of ambition and pride developing which will lead to a much more optimistic outlook.” For more information, click here

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