Dedicated investment in enterprise paired with a low cost of living has transformed a city once deemed the UK’s ‘crappiest town’ into one of the most exciting and lucrative places to start a business.
A rich heritage in tech
‘Did you know that the phone in your pocket, the screen on your desk and your 3D television exist because of a technological breakthrough 40 years ago by a research team at the University of Hull?’
You didn’t? Well neither did we. This snippet of tech-based insight can be found on the University of Hull’s website and concerns the discovery of LCDs by Professor George Gray, otherwise known as the father of modern LCD technology – in 1972.
Professor Gray joined Hull University in 1946 and began researching liquid crystal shortly afterwards. By the summer term, he had created the first synthesis of the cyanobiphenyl class of nematic liquid crystals that could be stable at room temperature, without which we wouldn’t have modern televisions or smartphones.
This isn’t the only story of innovation hailing from the Humberside region.
The city also has a unique telecoms history dating back to 1902 and remains the only UK city with an independent telephone service. 115 years ago, the city council was awarded a licence to operate its own telephone service, at which point Hull Corporation Telephone Services (now Kingston Communications) was born. Other cities were granted licences but were gradually taken over by BT.
Nowadays, fibre is available to more than half of businesses and homes in the city – around 50 per cent more than the rest of the country.
Changing perceptions through investment
Hull is finally getting the recognition and investment it deserves.
In 2015, the city’s Enterprise Zone (EZ) profited from the government’s Autumn spending review, receiving a financial boost in a successful bid to escalate investment and improve the availability and quality of office space.
The EZ was awarded 503 hectares around the Humber estuary and aims to utilise a skilled workforce to attract foreign investment; businesses in the renewable energy sector who acquire space in the area benefit from business rates discounts and enhanced capital allowances.
Most recently, Hull was awarded UK City of Culture 2017 status, an initiative set up by the Department for Culture after Liverpool benefitted from a multi-million pound boost to their economy as the European Capital of Culture in ‘08.
Jeremy Spenser set up his care business, Promedica24, after he experienced a poor quality service when his father was ill. Speaking of Hull’s status, he says, ‘The renovations and art installations highlight both the rich cultural heritage of Hull and East Yorkshire. Yet they also point to the fact that it is a great place for innovation; hence the Siemens turbine factory.
‘Entrepreneurs and investors are bound to visit over the coming year and will see that there is a lot in the area to make it a great place to do business.’
Stephen Cooke is a business coach working in Hull. He educates his clients in ways to make their businesses work more effectively and has noticed a tangible change in the atmosphere: ‘There’s a real buzz in the city, it feels more vibrant.
‘Tourism is very evident, particularly around old town and the marina. The exhibitions have benefited many local businesses, particularly the restaurants and related services and the additional footfall has energised the city centre,’ he explains.
Scope for innovation
Diony Creative is a new creative agency start-up which was established in 2016 after its founders decided to take an alternative post-college route. Managing director, Alistair O’Sullivan says, ‘We thought what better time is there to start up a business than the city of culture year, and it’s benefitted us massively. Now seven months down the line since starting up we are working with an array of different clients both nationally and internationally, and are currently in the process of employing several more team members.’
In terms of practicality, Hull happens to be very well connected. Home to one of the busiest ports in Europe it boasts excellent export opportunities through low cost ferry links. Eight regular rail services connect the city to London and the M26 gives easy access to major Northern powerhouses like Manchester and Leeds.
New businesses looking to recruit have access to a great pool of talent. The University of Hull consistently ranks within the top 70 universities in the UK and runs several business and enterprise programmes which offer advice on starting a business. Its computer science takeup has also doubled in size in recent years.
There’s a lot of support available for those making their first forays into the world of business. Innovative new workspaces are helping to facilitate business growth. C4DI provide coworking and tech incubation services that offer startups a place in which to grow, collaborate and learn through mentorship and skills sharing. The Hull Youth Support Trust, or HYST, runs an initiative that provides young entrepreneurs aged 18-30 with subsidised office space for two years, helping them to get their feet off the ground.
Alistair of Diony Creative captures the mood permeating Hull’s start-up scene perfectly:
‘The potential for growth in Hull is significant. It’s not saturated with businesses, there is so much opportunity for growth, development and expansion. It really is an exciting time to get involved . The support available is significant. There is a new desire for success and regeneration. I hear confidence and optimism in all my conversations I have with business owners. It’s infectious.’
For practical information and support on starting a business in Hull, visit Hull Means Business.
Further reading on top cities for business
Nominations are now open for the British Small Business Awards 2017, the leading event celebrating the brightest stars in the SME sector. Click here to enter. Good luck!