Starting up on the South Coast: Growing industries and lower costs

With London a 45 minute ride away from the South Coast of England, could Sussex be a start-up hub for business.

There are many advantages to the current start-up scene across the county, with factors including lower rent costs, and opportunities from a number of investors, and the ability to collaborate with two universities on the doorstep.

That’s according to the Sussex Innovation Centre, which works with the University of Sussex, and has a member’s directory with hundreds of companies it aims to promote by helping it source investors, including start-ups in a number of industries such as business management, human resources, engineering, science and technology.

Joseph Bradfield said when the centre initially opened over 20 years ago, it was seen as a way for developing industries on the South Coast other than tourism. “There was a big drain of talent skills, with graduates coming out of university and heading off to London rather than staying in the area.

“It’s what makes the local economy diverse and robust, having people from lots of different backgrounds and lots of different skillsets and experience and that’s something reflected in the type of businesses we work with.

“People hear the words ‘innovation centre’ and they imagine its lots of inventors with mechanical devices, but it’s a really broad range of things.

“The biggest trend I’ve noticed in the last couple of years is around HR, and employee engagement.

“We had an event last year which was about innovation in HR and we noticed there was a real cluster of start-up businesses around the idea of well-being and ways that you can track and monitor how well your staff are doing and making interventions if there are potential problems down the line.”

Emteq is a technological company based in Falmer, Brighton, which is developing hardware for emotion recognition.

These come in the form of sensors in a pair of glasses or VR goggles that translate the movement of facial muscles and can read the expressions on a person’s face.

CEO Graeme Cox has founded and exited a number of start-ups and had advice for anyone wishing to start in the county.

He said: “That whole process of getting access to cash, is about taking what feels like a really smart idea, taking it and honing it and refining it to the point where you actually have something, a defined product that a customer wants to buy.

“I live in Brighton, and it’s a hell of a lot easier to build an office three miles away from where I live, rather than 50 miles from where I live.

“It is of course a challenge in terms of access to resources and money and that’s really what drives people back into London again.

“But actually growing a team in a place like Brighton is a far better thing.

“It works for the business because living costs aren’t as high, it works for the individual because it’s a good environment to live and work in, and being part of a university provides a rich source of up and coming employees, so it does work.”

The centre claims to give companies an 85 per cent chance at becoming sustainable, while one in six reportedly end up with turnover in the millions.

The current success rate for a new company is reported to be less than one in five, according to the centre.

Despite successes, Joseph admitted there are still challenges for start-ups at the moment, and explained how they are always looking at acquiring new funding for investment in members.

He said:“The aim is to create stronger links between corporate companies and start-ups, and the academic community.

“That’s the kind of funding we tend to rely on, to make services as affordable as we can, so that’s our biggest challenge, to make sure those pots of money are available, and can be used to pass on benefits for start-ups.

“They are still out there, but it’s a long process in applying for them, and showing that you can do something worthwhile with them.”

Graeme, whose company is a member with the centre, said it has given him a lot of benefits.

He said:“Being connected to the academic community is very important to us, so having those links, not just to the University of Sussex, but also then the way that it facilitates access to institutions across the UK is very helpful.

“I wanted to build a team in an environment where they are surrounded by like-minded people, so having other entrepreneurs, other people working in small micro-business and that shared feeling of growing something is very important.

“It can be very lonely working in a small company, in particular a start-up, and that really helps the dynamics of building a team.

“The innovation centre’s helped from a number of different angles.

“The flexible office space they provide means I’ve been able to change offices and grow four times now, so I’m never paying more rent than I absolutely have to.

“The team have provided me with marketing support and research in preparation for events, they have a catalyst team of graduate interns paid by the hour that will come in and do the stuff that needs to be done that otherwise would never get done in the business.”