Why Bristol might be the UK’s best city to create a startup: Interview
As I entered the Bristol coworking space of the Natwest Entrepreneur Accelerator program, I was met with a unique buzz.
I had visited coworking spaces before but never like this. There were clusters of people everywhere making conversation beside a long row of tables with numerous people fastidiously working.
Admittedly it was lunch time, so this may not be the most accurate representation of the coworking space, but from what I knew of Bristol it was certainly in keeping with the city’s vibrant and friendly culture.
For anyone that is unfamiliar with Bristol, it is one of the most well-recognized cities in the south-west, and one of the ten core cities of Great Britain. The city is also very popular for its youthful atmosphere thanks to a lively culture and also because of the University of Bristol and the University of the West of England (UWE), two well-known universities.
I was greeted by Matt West, the Entrepreneur Development Manager based in the Bristol coworking space, who welcomed me to the coworking space before we sat down to discuss what Bristol’s startup scene really had to offer. One of the most interesting facts that I quickly learned about the accelerator program is that it stands as the largest free accelerator in the UK and the bank that stands behind it, Natwest, is the largest lender to SMEs. The organization’s desire to help those that want to make something incredible, starting with little more than an idea, was very clear from the start.
West tells me that everything within the coworking space is completely free for participants, wifi, coffee, desk space, printing. But that was just the start. He goes on to say that this is all part of a greater desire to unify and connect all their participants, giving them a central space to work together.
He states that there are roughly 70 participants on the program at any one time, which he states is “69 people you can bounce ideas off which is really invaluable at the startup stage.” At this point, I am reminded of the buzzing environment that struck me as I initially walked in. I could see the accelerator’s intentions were evident in the interactions taking place.
This feeds into something very unique to the program, as West tells me, the program is far less about businesses or ideas, but instead it is a program that focuses on the person behind the business or idea. They identify the unique characteristics of each person and create a “bespoke” learning journey for each individual. Therefore, two people from one startup may have two very different experiences on the program.
Focusing on technology
This accelerator is a perfect fit for Bristol’s startup scene, which is not only very animated and active but also very technology focused, adds West. One startup he mentions is Ultrahaptics, which allows you to “touch sound waves,” West tells me. This startup flourished out of the University of Bristol and has grown from 3 to 60 members of staff within the past 2 years, on top of £30 million of funding raised. He also goes on to mention other long standing businesses which have risen from the local area such as Aardman and Dyson.
West claims the only cities which perhaps stand ahead of Bristol in the UK, with regards to a thriving technology scene, are Reading and London. Reading due to its proximity to London and of course London because of its size and status. But potentially the most distinctive quality of the Bristol startup scene is a desire for collaboration among everyone, states West.
While you might expect accelerators, incubators and co-working spaces to battle it out among each other to promote their participants and startups, West tells me this is far from the truth in Bristol. Instead, they are in constant communication, always looking for the opportunity to help promote their participants and ideas, feeding into an overall connected startup scene within the city.
West states that all the managers from these organizations come together to understand the challenges they are facing and how they can work together to help one another. In addition to this, the university network is also strongly interconnected to help produce a prosperous startup environment for everyone to grow.
It is clear that Bristol’s close-knit community feel has really fed into its startup scene. As West puts it “People talk to each other here. That’s the big difference between here and London. You can say hello to someone on the street and they don’t look at you funnily. That collaborative, that community, that spirit, that togetherness and all working towards one common goal.”
Interested in applying?
For anyone who thinks their idea or business is a good fit for the Natwest Entrepreneur Accelerator program, you can apply on their website here. Successful candidates will be invited to join the program with the next intake scheduled for October, across all hubs throughout the country.