Which city is the UK’s start-up capital?

You too could work in an overly-instagrammable but not actually that functional start-up office. Image: Start Up Stock Photos

The latest instalment of our weekly series, in which we use the Centre for Cities’ data tools to crunch some of the numbers on Britain's cities.

Flat whites. Beanbags. A ‘zen zone’.

You know what I’m talking about. Millennial-ridden, top-knot-sporting, entrepreneurial-spirit-embodying start-ups, popping up all over the place building new businesses, apps, technologies, solutions, and gargantuan fortunes.

Start-ups: they’re the cool new thing for a developed Western city to have, with YouTube ‘spaces’ and Google ‘creative zones’ taking up space from King’s Cross to Tottenham Court Road.

But though London hogs the spotlight, is it really the UK’s start-up capital?

Image: Centre for Cities.

A simple look at the map of business start-ups per 10,000 people in 2015 shows that for the most part it's quite predictable. 

London sits at the centre of a network of darker green dots – indicating higher densities of start-ups per capita – which almost universally thins out as it heads away in all directions; towards Norfolk, Exeter, Newcastle, and Manchester. 

But that isn't an entirely fair picture. Doncaster flashes a reasonable shade of green, and way up in Scotland, Edinburgh looks like it's doing not too badly either. 

Image: Centre for Cities.

And this does come through in the top 10: though London is far and away ahead, unlikely dribbles of outer commuter belt show up, too. Northampton had the second highest level of start-ups per 10,000 people in 2015, and Basildon – of all places – comes in respectably in ninth place. 

And then there's Doncaster, in sixth. Ed Miliband would be proud. 

To look at the change in how start-up friendly cities are, too, is to see London's total hegemony fade just a little. 

 

Image: Centre for Cities.

To take the actual change – as in the gross change – from 2004 to 2015 (the widest data offering available), Northampton surges out ahead. 

London, indeed, is left almost exactly on a par with Slough (come friendly bombs), and not all that far ahead of Doncaster. 

And there's Edinburgh – plucky little Scots Edinburgh – coming in seventh place ahead of infamous 'M4 Corridor' powerhouse Reading. 

Image: Centre for Cities.

Looking at the relative, rather than the gross, change also knocks London off the top spot. By looking at the percentage by which the numer of start-ups per 10,000 people has changed, London's growth actually looks a little sluggish. 


Northampton, Doncaster, Slough, Luton, and Glasgow all come in ahead. Edinburgh is almost parallel with London, and Middlesbrough, Liverpool, and Crawley follow not all that far behind. 

So even if London has the most start-ups in the country, perhaps it's not doing all that well at encouraging and accellerating that start-up vibe that brings them all flocking. 

But of course, 2004 and 2015 are a very long way away from each other. Facebook was barely a thing then, 'Brexit' was the preserve of proper loonies, rather than socially acceptable loonies, and we hadn't even had the crash. What a time. (Just don't mention the War). 

Image: Centre for Cities.

Back then, the picture looked a little more diverse. Exeter, the South Coast, Bristol, Blackpool and the northern edges of the 'Northern Powerhouse' all seem to be doing pretty well. 

Even Norfolk is sort of getting in on the action. 

Image: Centre for Cities.

But if you pick a year just after the crash – like 2010, for argument's sake – you can see things are hunkering down. Those green dots have become more concentrated in the south, with the green dots in the Northern Powerhouse fading markedly, and places like Exeter and Cardiff trickling away.

London and its army of green blobs is out in force. 

So for some reason, something about the post-crash economy and the start-up world of Internet 2.0 (or the Internet of Things, I lose track) has tilted the balance in favour of London and the south-east. 

And as we've name-dropped the Northern Powerhouse in here, it's worth also noting that Manchester – the supposed capital of Britain's great future hub – hasn't featured on any top ten list thus far. 

Go figure. 

Image: Centre for Cities.

But at least one nice thing is that you have to look really hard to see any evidence of start-ups actually draining away. Looking at percentage change from 2004-15, only nine cities seem to have seen numbers fall. Which, in the greater scheme of things, isn't actually that terrible. 

You go, Britain. Out and into the world with your zen zones and start-up beanbags. 

Or something. 

Want more of this stuff? Follow CityMetric on Twitter or Facebook.
 
 
 
 

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

City Monitor is now live in beta at citymonitor.ai.

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 citymonitor.ai 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.