The Institute for Youth Policy (IYP) is a new think tank with a very modern outlook. We seek to empower young people by promoting policies designed to promote entrepreneurship, asset ownership and financial stability amongst young adults.


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    © Institute for Youth Policy, 2019.

    • IYP Staff

    '10 Best Cities For Young Entrepreneurs, Outside London' - IYP Original

    Updated: Jan 6

    The United Kingdom has a global reputation as one of the best countries in the world to do business, and a long history of entrepreneurship. As we enter the second decade of the 21st Century, the future of the start-up scene in Britain looks brighter than ever. As an international financial centre, London attracts much of the limelight when it comes to entrepreneurship, and it can be easy to forget that young entrepreneurs are flourishing outside of the nation's capital.

    In an effort to find the most entrepreneur-friendly regional city in the UK, the Institute for Youth Policy (IYP) has analysed the merits of fifty of the country's urban centres from the perspective of someone starting their own business. Our panel of judges examined a variety of factors including access to talent and sources of funding, levels of innovation, liveability and others to identify the top ten places to start a business outside of the 'big smoke'.

    After hard deliberation and much disagreement, particularly regarding the top three, we are delighted to reveal the Institute for Youth Policy's top ten best cities for young entrepreneurs.

    10. Cardiff

    The Welsh capital is a young city, with a majority of the population under the age of 35, and boasts the fastest growing population in the UK. As the seat of Welsh government, the city enjoys strong transport links (including an airport) and looks set to reap the rewards of further investment in infrastructure, notably the South Wales Metro. With an ever growing number of start-ups choosing to be based in the city, Cardiff has seen a boom in sectors such as bioscience and biotech, finance and the creative industries. The Welsh Assembly Government has also proved proactive in luring young entrepreneurs to the city, notably through grants and its 'A4B' program, which seeks to facilitate exchange of expertise between business and academia.

    Importantly, the city is also home to a large and growing student population, and its institutes of higher education have led the way in encouraging young entrepreneurship, with Cardiff University's Business School offering a wide variety of resources for those setting up a venture.

    Cardiff is a city on the move, and looks poised to emerge as a key entrepreneurial hub over the next decade.

    9. Leeds

    With a diverse economy, five universities and the fastest growing private sector of any UK city, Leeds thoroughly deserves its place in our list of Britain's ten best cities for young entrepreneurs.

    Already boasting the largest legal and financial sector outside of London, this Yorkshire powerhouse can also claim to be the UK's third largest manufacturing centre, an industry worth over £7bn to the local economy. Outside of these fields, Leeds also has a growing number of MedTech, chemical manufacturing and engineering firms.

    In terms of transport links, Leeds looks set to greatly benefit from High Speed 2 (HS2), connecting it to London, and from the proposed 'Northern Powerhouse Rail' (previously called HS3), connecting it to Manchester. It has its own airport, and is already home to the country's third busiest railway station.

    Entrepreneurship has a bright future in 'the Knightsbridge of the North', with the University of Leeds having established a Centre for Enterprise and Entrepreneurship Studies to cultivate the next generation of entrepreneurs.

    With improvements to transport links on the horizon, we would not be surprised to see Leeds working its way up our list in the years to come.

    8. Edinburgh

    Historic, iconic and breathtakingly beautiful, the Scottish capital was the original 'seat of enlightenment' in the 18th century. After winning 'Most Entrepreneurial City in the UK' in 2016, Jim Galloway - then Head of Enterprise and Innovation at the city council - declared Edinburgh to be in the midst of an 'enlightenment 2.0'.

    Notable not only for its quality of life, excellent transport links and business-friendly environment, 'Auld Reeky' also boasts a workforce with the highest level of degree qualification in the UK, at 55 percent. Its talent pipeline looks only set to improve, with the proportion of students in education second only to Manchester.

    Edinburgh has also won praise it's high number of business incubators and accelerators, covering everything from AI and Blockchain to Bio-tech and Environmental Science. With a growing population (the city's population surpassed 500,000 people for the first time ever in 2016) and ever increasing number of businesses choosing to be based in the city, Edinburgh is certainly one to watch as we enter 2020 and beyond.

    7. Reading

    Reading's inclusion on this list of Britain's most entrepreneurial cities may irritate some Berkshire-based readers, who take pride in the fact that - lacking a cathedral - Reading is technically Britain's largest town, and not a city.

    Technicalities aside, Reading's close proximity to London, good transport links and net inward commuter flow has placed it at 8th on our list. The town is ranked as the UK's top economic area for economic success and wellbeing by PWC, according to factors like income, employment and skillsets.

    With London's high cost of living increasingly pushing young entrepreneurs out of the city, Reading looks like a geographically obvious choice to benefit from the talents of those relocating. With the Elizabeth Line (also known as 'Crossrail') only strengthening the links between the nation's capital and this historic market town, Reading looks set to flourish over the coming years.

    6. Liverpool

    Liverpool is a city reborn, particularly since it elected its first Metro Mayor two years ago. Since then, the city has moved from strength to strength, channelling funding into business, infrastructure and innovation. This has resulted in a number of successful initiatives aimed at supporting entrepreneurship, notably the Business Growth Grant and Growth Hub. With regeneration projects worth £14bn already sweeping the city, the quality of life for young residents has seen dramatic improvements, with a recent study from The Sunday Times finding the city to be the best place in Britain to be a young graduate. As would be expected for a city boasting a large student population, Merseyside entrepreneurs also have access to a strong talent pipeline. The local media has continued to play a prominent role in drawing attention to some of the city's biggest success stories, and the stage seems set for many more of them in the coming years.

    5. Glasgow

    For those unfamiliar with the city, it might come as a surprise to see Glasgow rank above Edinburgh in a ranking of entrepreneurial cities.

    That is, until you look at the data.

    As well as being home to more than a third of all Scottish jobs, Glasgow represents the fastest growing major city economy in the UK. A robust plan for economic growth has been put in place, with the city seeking to be the most productive urban economy in the UK by 2023. Fostering entrepreneurship is a key part of this strategy, and Glasgow has lead the way in creating a support network for new ventures, and through increased engagement across the public and private sectors, including academia. In particular, Glaswegians have been proactive in encouraging young entrepreneurship and provide a number of free resources both on and offline to this end.

    With plans to link Glasgow city with Glasgow International Airport by rail shelved by the Scottish Parliament in 2009, transport links are the only thing holding this titan of British industry back in 5th place. That said, the city possesses strong rail and road links with the rest of Scotland, and entrepreneurship looks set to explode in the second decade of the 21st century.

    4. Cambridge

    Home to one the world's five most prestigious universities, Cambridge has surpassed itself in marrying academic excellence with a thriving business community.

    Nicknamed 'Silicon Fen', Cambridge is home to Europe's largest technology hub, and leads the way in fast growth areas like machine learning and AI, life sciences, gaming and IT. It also has a large pharmaceutical presence, with AstraZeneca's global HQ based in the area since 2016. A beautiful and historic city, Cambridge scores highly on quality of life, and being less than an hour from London by train, it is attractively located for those looking to take advantage of both domestic and international markets.

    The interchange between academia and business fostered by initiatives like the Cambridge Enterprise, an intelligent young talent pool, and strong support services for entrepreneurs secure this city an extremely competitive 4th place in our list.

    3. Birmingham

    With the largest economy and the highest number of start-up accelerators and incubators outside of London, it can come as little surprise that Birmingham comes 3rd in our list of best cities for young entrepreneurs.

    There are a large array of funding opportunities available for those looking to base a business in the Midlands, and the presence of four universities in the city mean that intelligent young talent is close at hand. As a result, Birmingham already boasts the highest number of enterprises outside of London, with one in four considered high-growth.

    With HS2 placing Birmingham firmly at the heart of the UK's transport network, we would not be surprised to see Brum topping our list in the near future.

    2. Manchester

    As the most popular destination for recent graduates outside of London, Manchester was always going to rank highly in our list of the most attractive cities to young entrepreneurs. This vibrant young population is matched by excellent transport links, strong business support networks and the highest concentration of private equity firms outside of London.

    With close collaboration between its universities and business interests, Manchester is increasingly becoming a major tech hub, with its FinTech sector in particular growing over 50 percent since 2009. Outside of technology, the city leads the world in healthcare innovation and emergent sectors. All this considered, it can come as little surprise that Manchester has attracted the highest level of foreign direct investment of any regional city in the UK. Whilst Manchester may not rank at the top of our list this time around, it did come extremely close. With a number of further initiatives in the pipeline and a dynamic Mayor in the shape of Andy Burnham, Manchester looks set to go from strength to strength in the next decade.

    1. Bristol

    In an incredibly competitive group, Bristol tops our list as the number one best regional city for young entrepreneurs. Vibrant, creative and fiercely independent, the so-called capital of the West Country is regularly voted the best place to live for young people. The city boasts strong transport links, a reasonable cost of living and world-famous nightlife. It has a diverse business sector, encompassing aerospace and advanced engineering, creative and digital, financial services, technology and environmental science. It also has a large media presence, hosting one of the BBC's three regional centres and a recently launched Channel 4 hub.

    In recent years, innovation in the city has skyrocketed, to the extent that it is now the UK's leading tech hub. Incredibly, it also ranks 12th in the top 20 tech hubs by capital invested in all of Europe. It has a thriving student population, with the University of Bristol consistently ranked in the UK's top ten, and one of the highest graduate retention rates of any university city in the UK. As is the case with several cities on our list, Bristol has a directly elected Mayor and strong partnerships between business and academia. The former has set ambitious growth targets up to 2050, including initiatives to decarbonise the city. The latter is best represented by SETSquared, a partnership between regional universities (Bristol, Bath, Exeter and Southampton, Surrey) that seeks to turn innovative business ideas into reality.

    Bristol is a city where entrepreneurship is flourishing, and deservedly so. Despite stiff competition from the other cities on this list, our judges believe we can expect to see 'Brizzle' rank highly for many years to come.