Cities outside London great for start-ups

Find out why Manchester and Sheffield are perfect for new businesses.

Starting up

16 November 2017

The city once affectionately known as ‘Madchester’ has undergone a business revolution – recently being named one of Britain's top start-up cities by

The pros of this city don't stop at lower costs than London – here are five reasons why you should consider Manchester if you're launching a small business.

Highest start-up rates in the Northwest

There's a real passion for entrepreneurship in Manchester, with around 53 businesses for every 10,000 people. It already has thriving tech and creative scenes, with the highest rate of start-ups in the region, while the BBC's presence in MediaCity is now attracting new film, television and media businesses.

Great spaces for co-working and freelancing

You don't need to work from your kitchen table if you base yourself in Manchester. The city is full of good cafés for informal meetings and innovative co-working spaces where you can mingle with other entrepreneurs. Beehive Lofts is a premium office space with breakout areas, while MadLab also throws in discounts on in-house workshops. Honest Coffee is a free-to-use hub which uses profits from coffee and food sales to support local entrepreneurs.

Excellent transport links

Manchester is home to the biggest UK airport outside of London. With direct flights to more than 200 destinations, it's a handy base if you're doing international business. Great news for techies: flights to Silicon Valley – via San Francisco – are launching next summer. With Scotland, just a couple of hours north by train and London a couple of hours south, Manchester is also well located to exploit its national connections too.

Lots of students means lots of fresh talent

Manchester is home to five universities, one of which has the largest single-site campus in the UK. For small businesses, this is a fantastic opportunity for recruitment, whether you need enthusiastic and dynamic interns or are looking to snap up bright young things as soon as they graduate.

Funding opportunities

The Greater Manchester Investment Fund (GMIF) aims to encourage job creation throughout the metropolitan area, with business loans between £500,000 and £5 million available for companies that can't get funded by banks. Other accelerators are Idea Alive which supports new businesses in the North West, and the new Open_Future North, a tech hub powered by Wayra that offers working space and access to investment to a handful of tech startups.

Just across the peak district lies Sheffield. There's no denying that Sheffield has an illustrious history in technology and manufacturing. But the city is more than its industrial past. The future is even brighter.

Sheffield has become a hotspot for startups from all backgrounds, boasting an impressive 42% new startup survival rate and also recently claiming a spot on's list of best places to start a business.

Here’s why Sheffield could be the future of start-up business success:

Local talent

With the University of Sheffield and Sheffield Hallam both located in the approx. 560,000-strong city, there’s no shortage of new talent. Data from 2014 shows that 130,000 working-age people had NVQ Level 4 qualifications or above, representing 35.2% of the population. That’s comparable to nearby Manchester (36.5%) and Leeds (34.2%), but Sheffield nonetheless operates a £130m Skills Bank to train another 40,000 people.

Average wages and house prices are also lower than nearby major cities, meaning employees can enjoy a better quality of life for less.

Business ecosystem

Sheffield offers numerous ways to get your business off the ground. Tech start-ups benefit from DotForge, Maker Hub and the Sheffield Enterprise Zone, while biotechs can turn to the city’s Bioincubator. Other businesses can seek financial support from the Regional Growth Fund, the Threshold Companies Initiative or the Sheffield SME Loan Fund.

Once your business is up and running, there are plenty of prime locations to set up shop – from St Paul’s Place in the city centre, to the Sheffield Business Park on the outskirts.

Support networks

The ecosystem isn’t just about access to finance, of course – support networks can be just as important, and Sheffield excels here too. UP Sheffield organises socialising, networking and skill-building events for entrepreneurs and SMEs, as does the city’s Meetup group and Sheffield Digital. Meanwhile, the University of Sheffield runs a regular start-up weekend and offers broader entrepreneurship support.


Connecting to business outside of the city isn’t a problem either. Sheffield’s central location in the heart of England makes it easy for contacts and clients to visit. It’s two hours from London, an hour from Manchester, and close to the international Robin Hood Airport. With average broadband speeds of 18.36 MB/s, you’re unlikely to struggle to access even wider markets.

If you’re looking to start a business, Sheffield and Manchester could have everything you need. To find out more about being an entrepreneur in the North, why not attend MADE Festival – the premier business event for entrepreneurship in the UK.