Top 4 cities to start a business outside the M25

The UK is a nation of inventors and entrepreneurs. 80 new companies are being born every hour. It’s easy to think that most of this excitement and buzz is happening in London but regional clusters of activity have already attracted a massive £4.5 billion in digital tech investment.

And even better news… they’re thriving. The High Growth Small Business urban hub league table says that three out of every five high growth small businesses are located outside of London and the South East of England. Not only that, they’re responsible for creating 1 in 3 new jobs – up to three times the number created by FTSE 100 companies.

That’s why we’ve developed this guide to doing business outside of London. We want to champion the wealth of talent in the UK and the people who are making business hotspots of nationwide.

According to an Informi study from 2016, London isn’t even the best city in the UK to start a business. It comes in meagre 8th. So, let’s take a look at the stats, facts and benefits of starting a business in the following four locations in the UK.

1. Brighton
2. Cambridge
3. Manchester
4. Leeds


Brighton is the best place in the UK to start a small business according to an Informi report which reviewed 65 UK cities. It’s a diverse, creative and a cultural hotspot in the south of England. The most popular types of business are in creative, digital and IT. You can read a more in-depth piece about Brighton’s super-hub status here.

Brighton by the numbers

• Total turnover – £713 billion
Average Brighton business employees seven people

Why start a business in Brighton?

• Big start-up culture with many start-ups created out of the Universities of Brighton and Sussex.
• The ‘Silicon Beach’ tech hub attracts IT firms, content, design and creative agencies, as well as independent retailers and food businesses.
• ‘Fused firms’ help bring together arts and humanities with science, tech, engineering and mathematics means STEM businesses do 17.9% better compared to other businesses
87% survival rate of small businesses
• Up to 10 times faster local economic growth versus the national average.

Regional heroes

These businesses have made a significant impact across the UK.

• Brighton Gin – award winning gin making a splash
• Lambent productions – award winning production company
• Plug-in Media – BAFTA award-winning production company

Start-up support in Brighton

The Funding Room is one of Brighton’s main angel investment networks
Hove Business Association offers business health checks and networking events for new and established businesses
Brighton & Hove Chamber of Commerce offers training and network opportunities for new businesses
Sussex Chamber of Commerce provides professional services and support with HR, legal queries and training
Brighton Business Curry Club has good food and networking opportunities
Brighton for Business is great for networking opportunities
Brighton Farm hosts networking opportunities for media freelancers


Cambridge is the 2nd best place in the UK to start a small business. It’s also known as England’s most vibrant business hub, scoring highly in opportunity, innovation and entrepreneurship. The most popular types of business are in construction, manufacturing, tech, wholesale and retail distribution, and IT & telecoms.

Cambridge by the numbers

• At a glance – 24,476 Cambridge based companies
• Total turnover – £35.6 billion
• Total employees – 210,211

Why start a business in Cambridge?

• Big start-up culture with many start-ups created out of University of Cambridge
• The ‘Silicon Fen’ tech hub attracts cutting edge software, electronics and biotech
Connecting Cambridgeshire programme, which works to get businesses in the region connected to superfast broadband

Regional heroes

These businesses have made a significant impact across the UK.

Excell – business worth £40 million that started in a Cambridge bedroom
Wesley Coe – makes and exports medical devices – exports doubled in 2016 to £1.9 million
Cashflows – payment provider whose international sales grew 73% in the last two years

Start-up support in Cambridge

Enterprise East Cambridgeshire provides advice and guidance on how and where to find business grants in the Cambridge
Cambridge university Entrepreneurs provides financial support, competitions and accelerator programs to students, staff and alumni
Cambridge Angels provides Angel investment
Cambridge Capital Group provides funding to start-ups


The Northern Powerhouse – Manchester and Leeds focus

Manchester is the largest tech cluster outside of London,

Manchester and Leeds by the numbers

• 476 Leeds based companies
• Total turnover – £2.9 billion – 4th largest digital turnover in the UK
• 36% increase in the number of active SMEs since 2010
• SME growth to create an estimated 16,000 new jobs by 2010
• Start-ups in Leeds give it an 84% for quality of life
New business survival rate of 35.9% – bear in mind new businesses are started at five times the rate of other places such as Cambridge, so the 35.9% is still a significant number

Why start a business in Manchester and Leeds?

• 18% of the UK’s tech workers live in the North
• Cost of living is on average 42% cheaper than London
• 7/10 most affordable cities in the UK are in the North
• Average digital salary is £47,000

Regional Heroes

These businesses have made a significant impact across the UK.

Cocoon – innovative tech company reinventing home security
UKFast – UK’s largest privately-owned hosting provider
Keep it Usable – award-winning app to help patients share their progress with their clinician
Auto Trader – UK’s largest digital trading place for cars

Start-up support in Manchester and Leeds

Manchester City Council provides a range of advice and practical help for new businesses
Innospace, Manchester Metropolitan University’s business incubator for startups and new businesses offers office facilities and business support and mentoring


Start-up success outside the M25

“It is encouraging to see that London is not the only environment where small businesses have the opportunity to thrive. However, for every success story, there are still far too many that struggle to get off the ground. SME owners should ensure they take every opportunity to seek out information and support that will help them get the fundamental ingredients of business in place to give their firm every chance of prospering.” – Darren Nichols, Product Manager for Informi.

Our guide has been designed to let people see there’s opportunity all over the UK. Some of the most recognisable brands are based outside of the confines of the M25, along with all the support any fledgeling business needs to take off. With extra support and less of the financial burden of living and working in London, it’s clear why it businesses are thriving outside of London.

But as Darren from Informi says, you can never underestimate the power of research. In addition to the links and extra reading in this article we’ve got a lot more content that’s been created to help out small businesses and entrepreneurs. And remember, networking is a key part of integrating into any business community, so get into the community spirit and share with your network.