What makes Bristol a startup haven?
In a previous article, I touched on some of the reasons why Bristol is the best city in the UK for startups, with 5 excellent examples in Blu Wireless, Graphcore, LUX Rewards, Reach Robotics and Ultrahaptics.
So what actually cultivates the thriving hub in our city? What’s bubbling under the surface to keep the tech scene so tasty? Sure, affordability plays a role. We’ve established that Bristol is half the price of London when it comes to renting, but so is virtually every other city in the country. Silicon Salisbury? Hardly. There’s also the cultural appeal of Bristol, which can’t be underestimated. Tech companies, especially startups, tend to comprise largely of younger, fun lovin’ socially-conscious types. Matcha latte shots, anyone? But there must be more to it than this. Well, there are a number of factors that make Bristol a startup haven.
Again, an area I mentioned previously but let’s take a deeper look. Burgeoning tech hubs tend to be served by excellent higher education institutions and in Bristol’s case they are world-class.
University of Bristol
One of the most lauded universities in the UK, the University of Bristol is a member of the SETsquared business incubator, an enterprise partnership and collaboration between the 5 leading research-led universities, which also includes Bath, Exeter, Southampton and Surrey. The Bristol SETsquared centre is based at Engine Shed at the heart of the Enterprise Zone, and startup success stories include Blu Wireless, Immersive Labs, and YellowDog.
University of the West of England (UWE Bristol)
Another conveyor belt for tech talent is UWE Bristol, which offers a wide range of highly respected courses and programmes including Innovation4Growth. Developed using the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), I4G supports small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) in the West to develop innovative products, processes, technologies and services. I4G can count the likes of TasteTech, Opposable Games, and Global Design Solutions among its many successful ventures.
Is there a more clichéd word in tech than ‘hub’? Probably not. But who cares. For want of a better term, Bristol is awash with hubs in a variety of guises. These organisations, publications and locations are the heartbeat of the scene.
Engine Shed - Based in Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s historic shed at Bristol Temple Meads station, the innovation centre opened its doors back in 2013 and has become synonymous with the acceleration of Bristol’s tech scene.
They say: Engine Shed is a hub where businesses, entrepreneurs, academics, social innovators, and corporates collaborate. Engine Shed showcases the strengths and innovations of the region by providing space, creating encounters, and running projects that inspire, enable, and challenge us all.
Runway East - Slap-bang in the middle of Bristol, Runway East offers coworking and space for startups. The riverside venue also hosts numerous events, networking opportunities and even workouts for both members and the general public (aka losers like me).
They say: We’re bringing together entrepreneurs, innovators, dreamers and doers from all corners of the city to build Bristol’s best space for startups to work, meet, think and (occasionally) drink together.
DeskLodge - Another workspace helping the tech community thrive in Bristol, DeskLodge now has two locations — Old Market and Temple Meads. The interior is designed in a multitude of themes, including a meeting room in the back of a van. The last time I jumped in the back of a van to do some work it didn’t go very well, but the less said about that the better.
They say: Both Bristol workspaces are in fantastic locations, minutes from Temple Meads train station, Cabot Circus & Castle Park. With a thriving community and amazing businesses based with us, we’re very proud of our Bristol spaces.
Bristol & Bath Science Park - Another centre for innovative excellence, Bristol & Bath Science Park in Emersons Green was opened in 2011 and is now owned by the University of Bath and South Gloucestershire Council.
They say: Bristol & Bath Science Park is a world-class environment that provides the space, flexibility and support for science and technology businesses to accelerate their growth and success.
Square Works - From the team at Quarter and part of The Square, Bristol’s private members’ club for creatives, Square Works will be launching in June this year. A creative coworking space based on Berkeley Square, members will have access to superfast WiFi, sexy furniture and a carefully curated events programme.
They say: Square Works is in a stunning Georgian mansion that has been meticulously redesigned to create a stimulating work environment. We also provide onsite regular wellness activities to provide a healthy and productive lifestyle.
Bristol Media - A support network for Bristol’s creative and media industries, Bristol Media can count members across a variety of sectors, including Animation, Film, TV, Digital, Design, Marketing, Publishing PR and Social Media.
They say: We are an industry led organisation, whose primary role is to facilitate collaboration and growth within our region, delivering projects, events and opportunities for over 600 paying members. Our Mission is to drive creativity and innovation across the southwest creative and media sectors, building the fame of the region.
TechSPARK - An information hub for the tech industry across the West, TechSPARK features all the goings-on and provides resources such as job listings, event listings and an interactive tech company Cluster Map. TechSPARK also hosts the annual SPARKies awards (which I assume I’ll be winning for writing this groundbreaking article).
They say: TechSPARK is the information hub for all things tech in Bristol, Bath and the West of England region. Our mission is to shine a light on tech innovation and celebrate the brilliant people that power the companies and products based in our part of the world.
Bristol Calling - Brought to you by the aforementioned TechSPARK and leading recruitment agency ADLIB, Bristol Calling is an online hub that showcases all the good reasons for tech employees to consider Bristol when deciding on their next adventure.
They say: Bristol Calling is an online presence that represents the South West’s Collective Employer Brand with the mission to showcase, feature, share and collate what makes the South West unique and what’s on offer for tech employees considering a move.
Location, Location, Location
Geography also plays a role in Bristol’s stellar startup scene. The close proximity to the M4 and M5 means that Bristol is easily accessible from all corners of the country, such as Birmingham from the north, London from the east, Exeter from the south, and Cardiff from the west.
Bristol is also well connected to other towns and cities nationwide, as well as internationally. Trains from Temple Meads reach pretty much anywhere across the UK (cheers, Brunel) and the ever-expanding Bristol Airport now offers direct flights to 78 different cities, including Amsterdam, Berlin and Madrid. Of course, we’re all still waiting for an internal underground or tram system to be unveiled in Bristol, but until then we'll happily brave the weather on our bicycles — healthier, greener, more comforta— maybe not.
We also can't forget that Bristol has a long history of technology and engineering innovation. From the railway, steamships and suspension bridge engineered by Brunel, to the aerospace industry and subsequent Rolls-Royce production both at Filton, the city has a rich heritage. Civil Engineering was among the first departments when the University of Bristol was born in 1909, and it's no surprise that the city's education hubs continue in that tradition.
Finally, attitude. Bristol certainly has that. But I’m referring to the collective, collaborative spirit of the tech community in Bristol. There seems to be a genuine desire to work together and keep our city moving in the right direction, progressing as one of the foremost tech destinations not just in the UK, but across the world. Those in the scene are understandably proud of putting Bristol on the map, and this selfless attitude is another great reason why startups don’t just choose Bristol, they thrive here too.
If you would like to learn more about how Gravitywell can help your startup, give us a call.