The 7 best tech hubs outside London

Innovation doesn't just centre around Silicon Roundabout, there are also of tech entrepreneurs setting up shop outside the capital.

by Rachel Savage
Last Updated: 05 Feb 2015

Londoners may drive themselves in circles around Silicon Roundabout, but cities outside the capital have been not-so-quietly establishing themselves as tech hubs. In approximate south-north order, these are the UK’s burgeoning startup centres, using Startup Britain data on the number of businesses founded in 2013:

1. Brighton

Number of businesses set up in 2013: 7,499
Where to hang out: Wired Sussex’s incubator FuseBox24, The Happy Startup School’s meet-ups
Best startups: Social media monitoring and analytics firm Brandwatch, online accounting company Crunch, game developer Studio Gobo, retail loyalty app Tagpoints

There’s something in the sea air: Brighton is bursting at the seams with creative companies and tech startups. A recent report by tech and media group Wired Sussex found the average digital company in the area is growing by more than 14% a year. With the country’s first Green MP, the notoriously liberal town, only a short train ride away from London, likes to make a difference. The Happy Startup School wants to help startups measure their success in happiness and organises events – mindfulness for entrepreneurs anyone?

2. Bristol

Number of businesses set up in 2013: 7,589
Where to hang out: Pervasive Media Studio, housed in arthouse cinema the Watershed; SETsquared on the top floor of The Engine Shed in the Temple Quarter Enterprise Zone
Best startups: Cloud-based business software creator Brightpearl, video advertising tech company Coull, smartphone camera controller Triggertrap, TV social media analytics firm Secondsync

Bristol’s not just about tractors and triphop – the West Country city has a thriving tech scene, boosted by world-class scientists and engineers from its two universities. Investment isn’t lacking either. Venture capitalist investors Eden Ventures are based in nearby Bath, with successful exits including Apertio, a mobile network provider bought by Nokia Siemens Networks in 2008, and streaming service blinkBox. Meanwhile, Webstart Bristol is currently raising £150,000 for a 10 week incubator through crowdfunding site Seedrs. The only off-putting factor is the city’s supremely lame nickname: ‘Silicon Gorge’.

3. Cardiff

Number of businesses set up in 2013: 5,974
Where to hang out: Foundershub, Cardiffstart’s First Tuesday get togethers
Best startups: Music merchandise platform Dizzyjam.com, app translators Applingua, audio social network Audibase

Admittedly Cardiff is still finding its feet as a startup hub - but entrepreneurs there are determined to make a name for the Welsh tech scene with Cardiffstart, an online startup community that puts on events, blogs on tech in the city and curates online resources. Shared workspace Foundershub has arcade machines, a vintage games console museum and a lab onsite for inventors to test their devices, while also running workshops and social events.

4. Birmingham

Number of businesses set up in 2013: 16,281
Where to hang out: The Custard Factory, the many, many (drinking) meetups listed by Silicon Canal
Best startups: Recipe and food shopping app Whisk, mobile payments company Droplet, medical social network Meducation, online hobbies marketplace Hobzy

A lot of unflattering things have been said about the UK’s second city, but over the past decade Birmingham has quietly become rather cool. The Custard Factory, on the site of old Victorian factories, is home to over 500 creative and digital businesses, and hosts everything from exhibitions to corporate events and club nights. While MT is quite frankly bored of anything appended to Silicon, 'Silicon Canal' is doing a pretty good job of organising the city’s tech community. Oxygen Startups is also running a 13-week accelerator in the city, offering up to €21,000 (£17,300) investment per startup.

5. Manchester

Number of businesses set up in 2013: 11,765
Where to hang out: Silicon Drinkabout on Fridays, TechHub Manchester
Best startups: Events marketing platform Fatsoma, SD adaptor maker Niftydrives, home storage marketplace Sharemystorage.com

With over 85,000 students at its two universities, Manchester is full of budding entrepreneurs, while the Manchester Science Park hosts more than 150 companies. Workspaces include TechHub Manchester and the Sharp Project, while the city’s (in)famous night life means you can’t go out without literally stumbling into a group of techies.

6. Edinburgh

Number of businesses set up in 2013: 7,112
Where to hang out: TechCube, Edinburgh Hacklab
Best startups: US fantasy sports tournament operator Fanduel, photo-sharing site Blipfoto, speech-text converter Quorate

Edinburgh may bring to mind amateur comedians and street performers, but the Scottish capital is also home to flight comparison website Skyscanner, which is now valued at over $1bn (£595m). Entrepreneurs can work at TechCube (or chill out on its roof terrace) or mess around with soldering irons in the Hacklab, all in the shadow of the famous castle.

7. Glasgow

Number of businesses set up in 2013: 8,085
Where to hang out: RookieOven’s monthly meet-ups, Entrepreneurial Spark’s hatchery open nights
Best startups: Satellite makers Clyde Space, cultural social network Kiltr, regenerative medical technology company Taragenyx

More companies were founded in Scotland’s second city in 2013 than in its nearby capital, many in the burgeoning tech and science scene. Glasgow also has a nascent space industry – Clyde Space and Alba Orbital both make tiny, low-cost satellites (10cm and 5cm squared respectively). The city is also home to multiple startup incubators, including Entrepreneurial Spark and Digital Enterprise Glasgow.

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