West of England: The Best Bits

As Scale-up Enabler for the West of England, I spend a fair amount of time sharing and advocating for my mission – to ensure the West of England is the best place for fast growth businesses to flourish.

According to Endeavor Insights (one of my favourite research sources on the topic ‘entrepreneurial ecosystems’), a vital ingredient for fast growth business success is the richness, diversity and quality of local life. In fact, Endeavor cite ‘local quality of life’ as being vital in two of their four pillars for a rich entrepreneurial ecosystem – both in creating the ambition for success amongst the entrepreneurial community and later in driving founders’ commitment to growth in the third phase.

So, I found myself reflecting on what really makes the West of England such a great place for fast growth businesses and how we can quantify or at least demonstrate that. With some help from real local specialists at Invest Bristol and Bath, Pervasive Media Studio, TechSPARK and others I quickly realised that it’s a super list, but one that many people aren’t aware of.

And here are my findings, some positive regional propaganda if you will which I will endeavour to keep updated as I gather more insights. Please get in touch (my details are at the end) if there is something important that I’ve missed.

Accolades and Awards

  • Bristol is the top ranking UK city for job opportunities according to new Royal Mail analysis (March 2018)
  • Bristol named the ‘World’s Smartest City‘ for 2018, Judge’s choice at international GLOMO Awards beating Dubai, New York and Singapore.
  • The New York Times announced their top 52 places to visit in 2018 and included Bristol at number 51 with a special mention for the ‘roomier’ trains we can enjoy from GWR and the new Brunel museum due to open in 2018. Later the New York Times published more detail on their assessment.
  • National Geographic announced their cool list for 2018 – 18 places ‘set to make it big in 2018’ and Bristol came 11th, it is the only UK city on the list and we managed to pip Paris by one place.
  • Bristol has been awarded UNESCO Creative City of Film status thanks to its Creative and Digital sectors. The city offers 11 international festivals dedicated to film annually, 10 cinemas and two universities providing 28 film-related degrees and is also home to world-leading media, including Aardmann Animations.
  • The State of European Tech report from Atomico was released in December 2017. It indicates that the amount of investment raised by companies in Bristol is 15% higher per capita than London and in the same Atomico Report, Bristol was found to have the 12th highest investment raised in Europe.
  • Bristol overtook London in the second Smart City index and is 2017 UK’s leading ‘Smart City’according to a study commissioned by Huawei UK.
  • The Startup Cities Index curated by Startups.co.uk announced Bristol to be the best place to start a business in 2017.
  • TechNation described Bristol and Bath as the ‘Most Productive Tech Cluster’ in both 2016 and 2017.
  • TechNation 2016 found Bristol & Bath to be ‘Largest tech cluster outside of London.’
  • McKinsey and Co. named Bristol & Bath as the only ‘fast growing and globally significant’ tech cluster in the UK (2015).
  • Home to the number one place in the UK to launch a startup, ahead of London, which ranked 2nd comparing availability, cost and quality of support for aspiring entrepreneurs (UCL School of Management 2016).
  • The Sunday Times selected Bristol as the Best Place to live in their 2017 report (Bristol has gained that title in 3 out of the last 4 years). In 2018 the Harbourside was named as one of the best urban places to live.

Local Highlights

The West of England is home to some impressive institutions, projects and initiatives including:

  • Bristol Robotics Laboratory – is the most comprehensive academic centre for multi-disciplinary robotics research in the UK. It is a collaborative partnership between the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol) and the University of Bristol, and home to a vibrant community of over 200 academics, researchers and industry practitioners.
  • Bristol Games Hub – the world’s largest independent games hub. A non-profit organisation that provides working space in Bristol where game developers and academics come together under one roof to create and study games.
  • Within the UK, the South West region has the most capable aerospace sector and one of the most diverse advanced manufacturing sectors in the country. The extensive network of highly-skilled people and innovative suppliers mean the UK South West is the obvious choice for industry giants such as Airbus, Leonardo, Boeing and Rolls Royce – to name just a few. We can boast that the 15 world-leading aerospace companies all have bases in the UK South West.
  • National Composites Centre (NCC) based at the leading Bristol & Bath Science Park. The NCC is part of the UK Composites Strategy and one of seven High Value Manufacturing Catapult Innovation Centres across the UK. The centre brings together business and academia to develop new composite design and rapid manufacture technologies, providing a gateway to the best talent and facilities in the country.
  • Bristol is one of only three location hubs for the BBC in England which includes BBC Natural History Unit.  It’s no wonder 35% of all global natural history television is produced in Bristol & Bath (houses the world’s largest concentration of firms producing wildlife content)
    • BBC Bristol is also home to the largest production facility in the West of England, Bottle Yard Studios, whose past productions have included Poldark, Broadchurch, and Wolf Hall.
  • Oracle chose Bristol to be home of their only Oracle Startup Cloud Accelerator in the UK
  • The region is home to two of the five SETsquared Centres (Bristol and Bath), two fifths of the global number one University Business Incubator which supports high tech start-up companies, provides student enterprise and enables academics to maximise the impact of their research.
  • And a bunch of interesting businesses have chosen to make the West of England home for their European Headquarters, including:
    • Strava (the social network for cyclists and runners)
    • Cray Supercomputers
    • IMDb
    • Yogscast (The world’s largest YouTube gaming channel)
    • Yankee Candles
    • Virtual Reality, and home to the VR World Congress and VR Lab (A shared workspace to research and develop Virtual, Augmented and Mixed Reality technology, applications and projects in the South West).
    • Cookpad, one of the largest online recipe sites in the world

 Other fun facts

  • Bristol & Bath is one of the UK’s most balanced and successful economies, with a population of 1.1 million people and a workforce of over 600,000, it contributes £30bn to the UK economy and is the only UK city other than London to make a positive net contribution to the Exchequer.
  • Bristol is the fastest growing economy outside London with exports increased by 10% in the last 12 months to Feb 2018. The economy in the South West is now worth more than £127 billion and is the second fastest growing economy of UK nations and regions with year-on-year growth of more than 4%.
  • Bristol has a global reputation as an innovation testbed. The ‘Bristol is Open’ initiative is a £12m research project to explore the future of a super connected, programmable smart city living. BIO is a joint venture between the city and the University of Bristol.
  • The University of Bristol is one of three hubs in the UK selected to participate in a £16M Government funded programme of trials for end-to-end 5G system. A further partnership with Nokia and BT will focus on Millennium Square and examine the optimum models for 5G as part of a future urban dense networks that will maximise coverage and speed, using a combination of research and commercial solutions.
  • Bristol was European Green Capital in 2015
  • In April 2017, Randstad who have an office in Clifton, Bristol offered 5 reasons why Bristol is set to be the digital capital of Europe.
  • In Feb 2018 We Buy Any Home revealed The Selling Points Index 2018, which found the Bristol to be the most desirable for home-buyers and offer the best conditions for sellers to get a good price.
  • Bristol airport is the only airport in the UK to have grown (in visitor numbers) every year since 2009.
  • Over 800 million people each month watch digital content produced in Bristol & Bath
  • Bristol was the first city in Britain to build an electric tram service!

And most of all, we’re a (mostly) humble bunch who don’t shout about our achievements terribly loudly which is why you can’t find this list collated in many places – and it’s just here for investigative journalistic purposes (and to help you be an effective ambassador for what’s happening here!)

Invest Bristol and Bath and TechSPARK are great sources of this kind of information so keep an eye on their websites to stay up to date.

This blog series tells the story of the Scale-up Enabler, Briony Phillips. Briony joined the Engine Shed team on a 1 year contract in June 2017 funded by Business West, Engine Shed, The University of Bristol and the West of England Growth Hub. This group have a shared ambition – first, to identify scale-up businesses in the West of England region and to better understand their challenges and second, to design, facilitate and support initiatives that will make it easier for businesses to scale-up more effectively – in the long term.

Links and information are correct as of December 2017.

Briony – Scale-up Enabler