Britain's unlikely startup capital is... Northampton

Yes, that one. Image: Google Maps.

Which is the best city in Britain to start a business, do you think? Is it London, with its silicon roundabout and global market? Up-and-coming and affordable Manchester, at the heart of the northern powerhouse? Aberdeen, because, well, everybody's rich?

Maybe. But one of the most plausible candidates is also one of the more unlikely. Northampton, a relatively small city in the midlands, has taken to calling itself “The most enterprising place in Britain to do business”.

Obviously a lot of cities like to talk themselves up as great places to live or work. Look at the numbers, though, and it turns out Northampton might actually have a point.

This chart shows the top 10 cities for new business start ups back in 2007. The figures aren't absolute, but per 10,000 people.

Click to expand.

Generally this is a pretty familiar list for anyone who spends too much time thinking about the British economy. London, Milton Keynes, Reading, Cambridge, are all southern boom towns. Aberdeen has oil. Aldershot has a big army base. Warrington is one of the north's bigger business hubs. There aren't really any surprises here.

Now look at the top 10 in 2013:

Click to expand.

A lot of those places are still there, but there are some new entries, too. Manchester's boom, it turns out, isn't just something ministers like to talk about to annoy Liverpool and Birmingham, but has its basis in actual new business figures. A pair of London commuter towns, Southend and Crawley, have popped into the list; perhaps that’s a sign that being within London's orbit, without its costs, is an increasingly attractive proposition to businesses.

And then there's Northampton. Which has appeared from nowhere to overtake everywhere except Milton Keynes and the capital. In six years, it's jumped from 17th to 3rd in this ranking.

How has it done this? Part of it is probably geography. Northampton is within an hour of both London and Birmingham, which no doubt helps. It's on the main road and rail routes to points north. Effectively, if not literally, it's in the middle of the country, which no doubt works in its favour.

Btu there's more to it than that. That “most enterprising place” slogan isn't just words. Here's how the city justifies it:

Why? Because of Northamptonshire's approach to supporting local companies. Support includes rent-free properties and rate rebates to enable the creation of new jobs and apprenticeships, a £5.8 million Growing Places Fund to unlock infrastructure constraints, and expert one-to-one support when you need it.

In other words, Northampton has implemented a programme of actively supporting local businesses. It offers £1,000 grants to local start ups and rebates of up to £20,000 on businesses rates. It's also, incidentally, been sticking posters all over the tube, telling Londoners how cheap housing in the Northamptonshire (“North Londonshire”) is.

All this seems to have paid off. This chart shows percentage increase in the number of start ups per head between 2007 and 2013. Once again, we've only included the top 10.

Click to expand.

Northampton is up nearly 59 per cent in just six years. More, by far, than any other city.

More start ups doesn't necessarily translate into “more viable businesses” of course – these numbers don't show how many companies there are folding, moving, or remaining tiny. And it's hardly a surprise that if you give people £1,000 to start a business, more businesses will get started.

But nonetheless, more start ups, over time, should translate to more viable companies. These numbers suggest that Northampton is doing something right.

That said, there may be other places worth watching – as well as the more predictable names, Leicester, Cardiff and Luton all make appearances in this list. Perhaps these are the Northamptons of the future.

No? Suit yourself.

Here's, just for the sake of completism, is an interactive map showing how many start-ups per capital launched in every major British city in 2013. Enjoy.

You can like us on on Facebook if you're into this sort of thing.


CityMetric is now City Monitor! Come see us at our new home

City Monitor is now live in beta at

CityMetric is now City Monitor, a name that reflects both a ramping up of our ambitions as well as our membership in a network of like-minded publications from New Statesman Media Group. Our new site is now live in beta, so please visit us there going forward. Here’s what CityMetric readers should know about this exciting transition.  

Regular CityMetric readers may have already noticed a few changes around here since the spring. CityMetric’s beloved founding editor, Jonn Elledge, has moved on to some new adventures, and a new team has formed to take the site into the future. It’s led by yours truly – I’m Sommer Mathis, the editor-in-chief of City Monitor. Hello!

My background includes having served as the founding editor of CityLab, editor-in-chief of Atlas Obscura, and editor-in-chief of DCist, a local news publication in the District of Columbia. I’ve been reporting on and writing about cities in one way or another for the past 15 years. To me, there is no more important story in the world right now than how cities are changing and adapting to an increasingly challenging global landscape. The majority of the world’s population lives in cities, and if we’re ever going to be able to tackle the most pressing issues currently facing our planet – the climate emergency, rising inequality, the Covid-19 pandemic ­­­– cities are going to have to lead the way.

That’s why City Monitor is now a global publication dedicated to the future of cities everywhere – not just in the UK (nor for that matter just in the US, where I live). Our mission is to help our readers, many of whom are in leadership positions around the globe, navigate how cities are changing and discover what’s next in the world of urban policy. We’ll do that through original reporting, expert opinion and most crucially, a data-driven approach that emphasises evidence and rigorous analysis. We want to arm local decision-makers and those they work in concert with – whether that’s elected officials, bureaucratic leaders, policy advocates, neighbourhood activists, academics and researchers, entrepreneurs, or plain-old engaged citizens – with real insights and potential answers to tough problems. Subjects we cover include transportation, infrastructure, housing, urban design, public safety, the environment, the economy, and much more.

The City Monitor team is made up of some of the most experienced urban policy journalists in the world. Our managing editor is Adam Sneed, also a CityLab alum where he served as a senior associate editor. Before that he was a technology reporter at Politico. Allison Arieff is City Monitor’s senior editor. She was previously editorial director of the urban planning and policy think tank SPUR, as well as a contributing columnist for The New York Times. Staff writer Jake Blumgart most recently covered development, housing and politics for WHYY, the local public radio station in Philadelphia. And our data reporter is Alexandra Kanik, whose previous roles include data reporting for Louisville Public Media in Kentucky and PublicSource in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Our team will continue to grow in the coming weeks, and we’ll also be collaborating closely with our editorial colleagues across New Statesman Media Group. In fact, we’re launching a whole network of new publications, covering topics such as the clean energy transition, foreign direct investment, technology, banks and more. Many of these sectors will frequently overlap with our cities coverage, and a key part of our plan is make the most of the expertise that all of these newsrooms combined will bring to bear on our journalism.

Please visit going forward, where you can also sign up for our free email newsletter.

As for CityMetric, some of its archives have already been moved over to the new website, and the rest will follow not long after. If you’re looking for a favourite piece from CityMetric’s past, for a time you’ll still be able to find it here, but before long the whole archive will move over to City Monitor.

On behalf of the City Monitor team, I’m thrilled to invite you to come along for the ride at our new digs. You can follow City Monitor on LinkedIn and on Twitter. If you’re interested in learning more about the potential for a commercial partnership with City Monitor, please get in touch with our director of partnerships, Joe Maughan.

I want to thank and congratulate Jonn Elledge on a brilliant run. Everything we do from here on out will be building on the legacy of his work, and the community that he built here at CityMetric. Cheers, Jonn!

To our readers, on behalf of the City Monitor team, thank you from all of us for being such loyal CityMetric fans. We couldn’t have done any of this without you.

Sommer Mathis is editor-in-chief of City Monitor.