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For start-ups in Birmingham, opportunity is rife

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The high number of start-up businesses in Greater Birmingham is a result of continuing economic growth, a dynamic talentpool and strong support networks.

Those are three of the main reasons cited by leading entrepreneurs in the city region whose young companies have developed quickly in recent years.

And with the region now becoming the UK’s first 5G technology testbed, this growth is set to continue, with businesses already eyeing new opportunities for expansion.

Birmingham has topped the list as the UK’s most entrepreneurial city outside London for five consecutive years. A total of 29,581 businesses were founded in the city across 2015 and 2016 according to the Start Up Loans Company and the Centre for Entrepreneurs.

Rob Pollard launched Lightbox Digital in 2005, which creates websites, marketing, e-commerce and other digital solutions. Clients include Associated Architects, Birmingham Children’s Hospital, Wesleyan, the University of Birmingham School, Birmingham Law Society and South and City College.

Since relocating to Birmingham’s city centre, turnover for the company has quadrupled from £180,000 three years ago to a projected £825,000 for 2018-19, with staff increasing to 16. Lightbox won the Small Business of the Year award in the 2017 Birmingham Awards.

Mr Pollard said:

“Moving Lightbox to Birmingham was undoubtedly the catalyst for our rapid growth over the last few years.

“Not only does the city offer a young, highly-skilled talentpool and access to funding but it’s great to be among like-minded business owners, particularly in the tech and digital sectors, all keen to seek new business and grow with the city.”

Official data states that Birmingham is one of the largest city economies in the country with an economy worth £26.2bn and a growth rate of 22.1% in the last five years.

Mr Pollard added:

“From vast regeneration schemes such as Paradise and Arena Central to HS2 and the Commonwealth Games, there’s so much going on in Birmingham right now and we’re excited to be at the heart of it.”

Another leading tech entrepreneur is Jodie Cook who returned to Birmingham after university to launch JC Social Media in 2011.

The company now has 17 staff who provide social media management and training in the professional services, e-commerce, healthcare, transport and hospitality sectors. Clients have included barristers at No 5 Chambers, Marriott Hotels UK and the Arriva public transport group.

Ms Cook, who won the Birmingham Young Professional of the Year in the Business Professional Services’ (BPS) Birmingham Future awards in 2014, said:

“Birmingham’s an exciting place to be because the whole city is growing. There are so many people starting up, running and growing tech businesses, which creates huge opportunities to network and support each other.”

Ms Cook is a board member of Silicon Canal, a community interest company which works across Greater Birmingham’s tech sector, which has more than 6,000 firms employing some 38,300 people.

She’s welcomed recent news that Birmingham has been chosen as a 5G mobile pilot city, allowing data to be transferred and thousands more devices to connect to mobile networks simultaneously at what’s estimated to be 100 times the speed of 4G.

Ms Cook added:

“The extra speed and capacity of 5G is a major step-change, and the tech community in Birmingham is buzzing at how it will make mobile technology work in real-time, offering all sorts of growth opportunities for businesses, health services and communities.”

Neil Rami, chief executive of the West Midlands Growth Company, added:

“The region is already both home to the UK’s most entrepreneurial city and hosting the largest tech and digital sector outside the capital.

“Now domestic and foreign businesses have a unique opportunity to capitalise on the West Midlands’ 5G testbed that’s the first of its kind globally. It’s great news for start-ups seeking a place where they can be at the cutting edge of mobile technology and makes the region better placed than ever before to drive tech-led innovation, research and development.”

Birmingham has more incubators and accelerator programmes than any other city outside London, helping start-up companies in their early years of growth. One of these is Innovation Birmingham Campus near Aston University, the largest and fastest growing dedicated tech campus in the country.

Joel Blake, a serial entrepreneur and business mentor, started a company called FeeLYX from Innovation Birmingham. The company uses AI technology to provide bespoke financial benchmarking for SMEs and plans to launch services March 2019.

Mr Blake, awarded an OBE for supporting new businesses in 2016, said:

“Greater Birmingham is on the cusp of a new wave of enterprise. Its attractions include a young population, a high level of diversity and affordable property, which combine to give it unlimited potential on a global scale.

“The Innovation Birmingham Campus mixes industry insight with practical technical support, which is what people with business ideas need at this crucial stage.”