Starting a Business in Brighton

Greater Brighton & Hove, and the Sussex region as a whole has a huge number of industries and a vibrant economy. There’s no doubt that the proximity of the capital has helped position Brighton as a well-connected place to do business, but the city has long since thrown off the image as a seaside commuter town for the capital.

In 1985 the East Sussex Borough Council listed three myths about Brighton’s economy: that most of the population commuted to London every day, that the then town’s economy was mainly down to tourism and that the residents were mainly retired wealthy businesspeople. None of these statements could be further from the truth and the then town (and now city) has been an important centre for commerce and employment since the 18th century.

In this article I want to take an in-depth look at starting a business in Brighton, looking at support services available, the local economy, as well as the performance of four key industry sectors.

First though, let’s look at what it’s like to actually live in the magnificent city of Brighton.

Starting a business in Brighton

Living in Brighton

Brighton is, in fact, the seaside part of the city of Brighton and Hove, which was granted city status in 2000 and is situated on the south coast of England in the county of East Sussex. The Greater Brighton City Region includes a number of local authorities and refers to Brighton’s wider economic significance over the region.

The city has a population of 281,000 (42nd in the UK) and is known for its young, diverse and tolerant population. Brighton is situated close to London, which is easily accessible by train or road, making it popular as a place to live for commuters.

On the culture front, Brighton really does take the biscuit compared to most other UK cities with North Laine being seen as the city’s cultural quarter. The city is internationally renowned as a centre of arts and hosts one of the largest arts festivals in England – the Brighton festival which features a wide variety of live music, theatre, dance, art, film and literature. The city is also well known for its fantastic nightlife and open tolerant attitude. Brighton’s LGBT community is one of the largest outside of London and the city hosts the UK’s biggest gay pride festival.

Quick stats on Brighton’s demographics

  • Brighton has a lower percentage of children and older adults than the UK and wider south-west region but a concentration of residents aged between 20 and 44.
  • Brighton has often been referred to as one of the happiest UK cities to live in and a 2014 survey revealed 92% of residents were very or fairly satisfied with their local area as a place to live.
  • Brighton has a large student population with 14% of residents over 16 being in full-time education (the regional average is 8%).
  • Brighton has some of the highest population density in the southeast at 33.1 people per hectare (regional average is just 4.5).

On the housing market front, the average property price in Brighton (as of September 2015) is just shy of £300,000 at the time of writing; well over the average rate for the region. This is due largely to Brighton’s appeal as a vibrant, cultural and happy place to live, as well as do business.

Where to do Business in Brighton

Sometimes referred to as ‘Silicon Beach’, Brighton has grown to become a regional hub for the creative, digital and tech industries. The city is one of the country’s entrepreneurial capitals and in 2015 the city played host to more startups per capita than anywhere else in the UK.

Business hubs are common throughout the city, with sites such as New England Quarter, the Jubilee Street development and the Woodingdean Business Park being amongst some of the most popular with new startups. The Denton Island Harbour-Side enterprise area in Newhaven is also a very popular location to base a new business.

Many co-working offices are available as well, something that undoubtedly appeals to those working in the creative industries, where collaboration is common. Two of the most popular are the Brighton Media Centre and the Knoll Business Centre, which is situated in Hove.

A thriving area to do business in Brighton in the retail sector has to be the Laines, which is at the heart of Brighton’s thriving cultural and shopping district with a ton of independent shops and restaurants.

If anything, Brighton is actually quite crowded when it comes to business growth, but the pressure is on to turn this around and develop more of the city. One such example of this is the transformation of Anston House into a co-working office, along with the building of 229 homes in the area.

Business Support in Brighton

Business Support in Brighton & Hove

Starting a new business anywhere is daunting but Brighton is gifted with a strong business community and a range of support services and networks to put up and coming businesses in touch with potential customers, collaborators, trainers or even funders. Below are just a few of the best:

  • Brighton & Hove Chamber of Commerce helps connect and train businesses in the Brighton and Hove area and has lots of training and educational programmes for new business owners. Their excellent Ride the Wave programme has just successfully won the bid to deliver training for 2016 and is funded by Brighton & Hove City Council.
  • Sussex Chamber of Commerce provides a number of professional services to its members that include HR support, legal queries, training, healthcare plans and insurance. Using the British Chamber of Commerce network these services can be negotiated at rates procured by large-scale corporations.
  • MD Hub is a support service for managing directors and senior board directors offering peer to peer networking to facilitate business growth. The network covers the whole of the south of England and also offers management training programmes.
  • Sussex Innovation Centre is a wholly owned subsidiary of the University of Sussex and works alongside the university community, from students, graduates to academics and researchers. Amongst many other things, it provides startups and new businesses with access to networks that can help you link up with researchers, corporate clients, lawyers and accountants. It also offers a forum for other like-minded entrepreneurs to get together and share their experiences.
  • Natwest’s In-branch Entrepreneur hub in Brighton was launched in 2015. The scheme, which saw hubs open in nine other major cities across the UK, aims to provide local businesses with a range of advice and support on helping them grow.
  • The Funding Room is a funding initiative that puts new businesses and startups in touch with angel investors. Pitches with potential investors can be booked in as little as 15 minutes and are done online. The ‘matchmaking service’ has come about with the help of the Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme (SEIS), a government scheme that offers significant tax breaks to investors who can plough money back into the UK economy.
  • Coast to Coast Capital is Brighton and Hove’s local enterprise partnership but also covers Croydon, West Sussex, Lewes and East Surrey. On top of its strategic objective to help develop local infrastructure and create economic growth, the LEP also offers a number of business support services to businesses. These include a growth fund which is eligible for small and medium-sized businesses looking to expand in the region.

National Support Services

As well as services based in the Brighton & Hove area, there are of course a number of national support services that are available to any business, wherever they’re based in the UK. I’ve listed some of the best below:

  • The gov.uk Business Support Finder is a tool available to anyone and can help you find grants, finance, business support, loans and funding for your business. The tool has several filters and you can put in your business’s postcode to find relevant results.
  • The Companies House website has all the information you’ll need to register your limited company, as well as information on starting, running and closing a company, as well as changing your company details.
  • The HMRC website is the place to go for any information about tax. There are tons of resources on the site and guidance on tax thresholds, how and when to pay and what taxes you are liable for. You can also complete and file your self-assessment through this website, once you’ve signed up. Of course, we’d highly recommend that you don’t rely on the site and hire the services of a chartered accountant to help you with your finances.

Brighton Industry Sector Summaries

In this section, I want to look at three important industry sectors in Brighton, all of which were covered in the 2014 Greater Brighton and West Sussex Business Survey. I’ve summarised each, in turn, looking in particular at growth drivers, networks and skills but for a really in-depth look at this and a lot more about business in Brighton, go and have a look at the 102 page PDF report yourself.

Creative, Digital and IT (CDIT)

Brighton’s CDIT sector is worth an estimated £713 million per year to the local economy and is one of the biggest centres of growth in this sector outside of London, employing some 15,000 people across 1500 businesses. A large section of this industry is made up of freelancers and micro businesses, so collaboration and partnerships are a crucial driver of innovation and profitability.

Although there are businesses throughout the Greater Brighton area, including, Lewes and Worthing, Brighton is seen as the central hub for the CDIT sector in the region. The city itself has many connections with firms and clients in the capital and proximity is undoubtedly a huge benefit in this sense.

A 2013 survey from Wired Sussex, the University of Brighton, the University of Sussex and the Council of Industry & Higher Education found that growth in the sector was at 14% between 2010 and 2011. This is three times faster than other business areas and ten times faster than the UK economy overall. This has been recognised by a £170 million investment in ‘silicon beach’ in 2014, under the Government’s ‘Greater Brighton City Deal’.

Drivers of growth are undoubtedly connections and proximity to London and the labour market is supplied by the University of Sussex and the University of Brighton, who have developed their media arts and digital media programmes in collaboration with the city’s industry.

Health and Life Sciences

The UK is a global leader when it comes to the development of pharmaceuticals, medical technology and medical biotechnology, with the industry shifting towards a more collaborative model and a rise in smaller biotech businesses driving innovation. Brighton and Hove and the West Sussex region is a significant player in this field, with many market-leading businesses in the Medical Instruments and Devices area, a strong research university base, one of the UK’s newest medical schools and many small biotech firms attached to the University of Sussex. The university is also investing in a new bio-innovation facility.

Despite a shift towards offshoring from some of the larger manufacturers in big pharma (GSK closing in Crawley in 2012, Novartis downgrading Horsham plant in 2013) the SME sector is proliferating as the sector moves more towards contraction and outsourcing.

Despite complaints about the lack of investment in suitable premises, the Sussex Innovation Centre run by the University of Sussex has received much praise by those working in this sector.

Food and Drink

Sussex is one of the UK’s major food and drink producing regions, with West Sussex being home to some of the country’s largest horticultural businesses. This is down to the county having the best winter light in England along with very rich soil. With poorer growing conditions, East Sussex farmland is used more for livestock farming.

Brighton itself is a hugely cultured city and as such provides a significant consumer base for locally produced food, with a growing market in both the retail and hospitality areas (including beverages from the regions 43 breweries).

There are still a lot of opportunities for the industry to establish better relationships with hotels and restaurants and push the locally sourced angle with cosmopolitan consumers in the city.

UK wide, the food and drink sector has struggled with its image as a low-skilled sector but this is changing with applications to agricultural colleges up. The food and drinks industry is increasingly reliant on technology so there is a continuing need for skilled technicians and engineers.

How can Plummer Parsons Accountants help Brighton Businesses?

How can Plummer Parsons Accountants help Brighton Businesses?

We’ve only really touched the surface in this guide on doing business in Brighton and the state of various industry sectors in the city and in the wider region. I hope to return in more forensic detail to some of the areas and covered in this article in this blog at a later date.

Starting a business is certainly a daunting task with half of all small UK businesses failing in their first two years. Running a small business means taking on different business functions, many of which you’ll have little or no experience in. One of the most complex but fundamental to your business’ success is finance and accounting. Tax can be taxing and there are more rules and regulations to follow than ever so it really does put you at an advantage to get a good accountant on your side from the offset.

Many people see their accountants as a necessary cost to the business but it sometimes helps to think of it more as an investment. As accountants, we don’t just file your tax returns. We can help you outsource your payroll, help you identify cost savings you didn’t know were there and even help you plan your businesses financial strategy over the next five years. We are there to help you succeed and become profitable, as well as tick all of HMRC’s boxes.

At Plummer Parsons, we have been working with small businesses in Brighton and further afield in East and West Sussex for many years, helping them grow successful businesses that will stand the test of time. Our client portfolio is extensive and we have experience in a number of sectors. So if you’re thinking of taking the plunge and starting your own business in Brighton, give us a call to see how we can help you build a business with a long and profitable future ahead of it.