The Bristol tech scene is recognized right alongside London as one of the UK’s most important centres for rapidly growing digital industry. According to a major new report, Powering a Digital Economy 2015, Bristol harbours the greatest volume of British employment next to London. Now recognized as a globally significant tech cluster, the area is growing so fiercely that it has acquired the nickname ‘Silicon Gorge’.
So why is Bristol such a hotbed for tech workers and startups? Among many reasons, one could easily point to Bristol’s already rich heritage of high-tech clusters, creative industries, aerospace, and natural history film-making. In addition, Nick Sturge, Director of the Bristol SETsquared Centre, credits Bristol’s “huge can-do attitude, which makes it so much easier for businesses to start-up and grow.” Besides the inextinguishable spark of Bristolian entrepreneurs, Bristol-based companies also report fewer major barriers to growth than companies based in other UK regions. This is evidenced by the fact that Bristol startups have a survival rate of 60.6%, one of the highest in the country.
Perhaps the most important factor that encourages digital business growth within Bristol is the supportive start-up culture and the opportunity for collaboration between professions. Bristol small businesses are hugely supported by a variety of co-working and incubator organisations, which are ideal for freelancers or fast-growing startups. The so-called “Temple Quarter”, a Local Enterprise Zone by Temple Meads railway station, is home to a growing cluster of tech businesses. Within the Temple Quarter, there are multiple startup incubtors like SETsquared and WebStart Bristol. Incubators, closely related to ‘accelerators’, are designed specifically to support high-growth venture backed startups. They require startups to apply for admission, and are paid for in 4-10% equity once accepted. Once part of an incubator, startups are required to operate in the incubator space for a short period of time (1-6 months) and are expected to be fully committed to their project. During this time, they are given an all-inclusive support package including legal help, accounting services, networking services, and professional guidance.
Co-working spaces, similar to incubators, are designed to support talented entrepreneurs and startups. But while incubators require an application process, an equity, and a commitment, co-working spaces allow people to work on their own terms. Anyone can rent space without making any professional commitment. Co-working spaces offer more flexible terms – one can usually rent space indefinitely. They are not free, but they can be pretty close, especially considering that they do not require giving an equity. Tenants of such office spaces share rent costs while still reaping the benefits of a solid professional networks, a social workplace, collaboration opportunities, and extra office facilities (like cafés, wifi, and gyms). And while there is no official free guidance, tenants are surrounded by entrepreneurs from all walks of life who will often offer free consultancy and contacts. Co-working spaces are a genius way to allow early-stage startups and creative people to flourish in city centre locations, placing workers in close proximity to transport links and other like-minded businesses. These sorts of spaces are necessary to tackle Bristol’s lack of appropriate workplace property, especially in the face of an increasing number of technology workers.
Bristol property management company Meanwhile Creative is one organisation that is helping to connect creative individuals to affordable, hip co-working spaces in the heart of the city. Jack Doran, Marketing and Development Manager at Meanwhile Creative, states that the most common sentiment he hears from new tenants upon moving into a shared space is that their productivity significantly improves. Of the appeal of co-working spaces, Doran notes: “Many freelancers and small enterprises battle with distractions trying to work on the kitchen table or in cafes, they may not even realise working in a space like ours can cost as little as £90 a month. For some the possibility of collaboration is a big draw, we love watching our tenants make links and help out on each others’ projects.” One of Meanwhile Creative’s largest workspaces – Pithay Studios – is a modern 8-storey office building right in Bristol’s city centre. This particular space is a creative worker’s dream: the main entrances are professional and corporate-like, while the interior of the building radiates a creative, colourful vibe. The ground floor features an eclectically decorated café with an indoor plant ecosystem, a dance studio, and a full service gym. The shared spaces are filled by a thriving community of developers, photographers, designers, fashion brands, DJ agencies, jewelers, personal trainers, event planners, app developers, musicians, and cinematographers all working on their various endeavors. Just within the digital realm, the Pithay Studios have people working in 3d modeling, digital media, virtual reality, drone cameras, software development, web design, and much more. The Pithay Studio tenants form a friendly community and comprehensive network of skills, opening doors to a multitude of collaborative opportunities. Doran predicts: “I think more and more Bristol will be recognised as a centre for innovation and fast-growth companies. We’re dead keen to be a part of this movement by providing work space with the flexibility that these companies so desperately need.” With Bristol’s entrepreneurial spirit, its access to talent, the busy international Portsbury Docks, and the development of high speed trains from Bristol to London, our tech scene is in a perfect position for major growth. Fortunately, Bristol is supported by organisations that provide affordable office solutions in order to allow that growth to be possible.