Bristol is best for startups… here’s why (with examples)
Bristol is often championed as a tech powerhouse, a genuine alternative to the all-consuming beast that is London. While the capital is undeniably ahead in terms of population, connectivity and cultural clout, the sheer enormity and cost of the place doesn’t make it entirely conducive to early stage startups. Having lived in London for most of my twenties I can confirm that yes, for the pleasure of a modest bedroom in Zone 4, a monthly travelcard, and the occasional flat white, you may well have to sell a kidney. Don’t even get me started on the West End.
Well, aside from the cost element — renting in Bristol is a whopping 50% cheaper than in London, according to Numbeo — Bristol has much to offer. Life out west is hardly a leap into a cultural vortex, with Bristol boasting superb arts and food scenes. It’s a big city, but not overwhelmingly so, and it’s also environmentally conscious and progressive. The POTUS would love it here.
As with most tech hubs, centres of education are a determining factor. Bristol is spoilt for choice, with talent emerging from its two universities, University of Bristol and UWE, as well as University of Bath and Bath Spa University in neighbouring Bath, 10 minutes away on the train.
And the numbers don’t lie. According to Tech Nation, Bristol is responsible for almost 30,000 digital tech jobs with an annual digital tech business turnover just shy of £8bn. Huge! So, Bristol is well and truly established as a haven for startups, but who are some examples? Here are 5 of the best.
Blu Wireless develops chip designs for high-speed modems and its technology is seen as crucial to the next generation of mobile networks. A member of the Bristol SETsquared incubator, the 'Enterprise Zone' company has secured some impressive funding. The microchip giant ARM Holdings — who design the microchip that’s in your beloved iPhone — have invested, as have Calculus Capital.
They say: We are pioneers of intelligent multi-Gbit mmWave wireless communications systems, offering our cutting edge expertise and technology to truly set our customers apart from the competition. Addressing the challenge of building cost effective 5G networks, reliable connectivity on high-speed transport and low latency video streaming in the home, we can provide solutions engineered for tomorrow – today.
An absolute blockbuster startup success story. AI (artificial intelligence) chipmaker Graphcore was only set up in 2016, yet is already valued at $2bn, having recently secured a new round of funding from new and existing investors, including Sequoia Capital, Baillie Gifford, BMW and Microsoft.
They say: We’re optimistic for a future where people live healthier, more informed, more creative lives. We see a world where technology enhances human potential, and takes us into a new era of intelligence and progress that everyone can benefit from. We know there are innovators who can build this future and we understand their ambition, and their challenges. So we’ve built a totally new processor which allows them to go for it. We constantly push boundaries so others can do the same. The future is coming. We’re just bringing it closer.
This one will make you peckish. Another SETsquared startup, LUX Rewards is a rewards app that connects fine-dining foodies with the best handpicked local restaurants in Bristol and Bath. It’s certainly more exciting than my Nectar card.
They say: Customers can discover amazing restaurants nearby, collect points for spending at them, and purchase luxury rewards from Red Letter Days. Dine with LUX and you could drive a Ferrari, relax at a spa day, or drink champagne at the top of The Shard. Or make a donation to local charities. Think of us as the ‘air miles’ of the fine dining market.
Another futuristic phenomenon, Ultraleap produces technology which enables users to receive tactile feedback without needing to touch or wear anything. Very cool. Founded in 2013 as Ultrahaptics (before merging with US tech manufacturer Leap Motion and rebranding as Ultraleap in 2019), the touchless haptics company recently raised £35m in Series C funding led by Mayfair Equity Partners.
They say: The future is a place where infinite worlds are at your fingertips. One where you interact naturally and in 3D. One where you don’t need controllers. Ultraleap was formed when Leap Motion and Ultrahaptics came together in 2019. We’ve united the world’s most advanced hand tracking with the only haptic technology that creates the sensation of touch in mid-air. We have a team of more than 150 spread across the world, with locations in Silicon Valley, US and Bristol, UK. Our team includes world-leading experts in interface design, acoustics, machine learning, and computer vision.
Ever lose your stuff? That's the first thing Found asks you when you visit their website. The answer, obviously, is of course you bloody do! Thankfully, the Bristol-based startup harnesses AI technology to match lost and found items, and links the finder with the owner to arrange a safe return. *Breathes sigh of relief*. Already backed by local business titan Stephen Lansdown, as well as the West of England Combined Authority's investment arm Invest Bristol & Bath, it won't be long before everyone finds Found.
They say: Found are experts in lost property and technology. We’ve developed leading-edge software and a super smart lost & Found app that makes it quick and easy for you to get lost items back. We’ve also established a network of Found partners, increasing the likelihood you’ll be reunited with your item.
There you have it, 5 great examples of why Bristol is best when it comes to startups. So if you’re debating where to set up shop, swap your Fiesta for a fixie bike and cycle on down to the Silicon Gorge.