Interviews

Look Beyond London: Running a business in Cardiff today

17 min read

12 October 2018

Former deputy editor

Following the latest Amazon Academy bootcamp for SMEs in Newport, Wales, our Look Beyond London series shines a spotlight on companies doing business in Cardiff.

This year, Wales was named as one of the fastest growing economies in the UK. In particular, the exporting economy has been instrumental in pushing Wales forward and is worth an estimated £60bn.

Treasury chief secretary Elizabeth Truss, said: “Whether it’s globally renowned Welsh food or advanced technology, the UK government wants Wales to sell even more of what it has to offer around the world.

“The Welsh economy continues to grow, in part thanks to the strong export economy here. That’s why the UK government is investing hundreds of millions of pounds in Wales and we are fully committed to ensuring Welsh businesses are able to benefit from the independent trade deals we are preparing for after Brexit.”

In a move that will support businesses in the country’s capital Cardiff and nationwide, the government raised the Welsh government’s budget by £1.2bn. Additionally, £615m is to be invested in Cardiff and Swansea deals over the next 20 years.

As always with Look beyond London, we wanted to hear first-hand accounts from those doing business in Cardiff to see how they view the city.

 

Business in Cardiff

“Cardiff is an affordable city for people looking for a higher quality of life than can be found in similar large cities in the UK.”

IT: Alert Logic

American firm Alert Logic, founded in Texas, selected Cardiff as its European headquarters and bypassed London. Offering an explanation why, David Howorth, senior VP, said: “After an extensive search, and a lot of analysis, we chose Cardiff because we would be able to access the specialist skills that would be required to scale the business.

“We were also impressed by the proactive support shown by Cardiff city council and the Welsh government.”

He added that, as a company expanding internationally, the cost of skills and office space made doing business in Cardiff far more attractive than the capital. That said, he praised the transport links in place to access London if required.

“Over the past four years we have seen a significant influx of IT, cloud, cyber-related businesses, many of these startups. These companies are choosing to set up in Cardiff for many of the same reasons that motivated Alert Logic to choose Cardiff,” Howorth continued.

“In addition, when compared to other locations, Cardiff is an affordable city for people looking for a higher quality of life than can be found in similar large cities in the UK.”

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He built on his earlier praise for the Welsh government and said support and willingness from officials has been impressive. One such example was through the government’s collaboration with the University of South Wales, which looks to reduce the cyber skills shortage.

“Support from the Welsh government, a partner on the National Cyber Security Academy, and the educational institutions in Wales has created job opportunities that entice graduates to stay in the area after graduating, working at companies within their chosen industry,” he said.

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Reflecting on the difference between business in Cardiff and the US, he said the main challenges faced by companies are on a national level, in terms of accessing skills overseas. He also called for more effort to pull foreign businesses like Alert Logic into Cardiff.

Communications: Orchard

Operating in a totally different sector, we heard from Tim Powell, PR director of creative communications company Orchard. For Orchard, running a business in Cardiff was all about the culture and environment it could provide.

“We’re a creative, content and communications business bringing ideas to life, so we need a youthful city with a vibrant economy and great quality of life,” said Powell.

“There’s a buoyant media set up here, enabling us to produce TV programmes and work extensively in both Welsh and English languages. The business community refers to Cardiff as ‘the village’ in that it’s tight-knit and generally supportive, and it’s easy to escape – we’re the nearest capital to London after all!”

Business in Cardiff

“Last year we hosted the biggest global sporting event of the year, in terms of profile, when UEFA brought the Champions League Final to Cardiff”

Powell highlighted the Welsh government devolution as a key development that’s supported Orchard’s development. It invested in a £1m 17,000 sq ft headquarters through the Economic Growth Fund, based just adjacent to the railway.

“The last 20 years has seen a big focus on Cardiff – last year we hosted the biggest global sporting event of the year, in terms of profile, when UEFA brought the Champions League Final to Cardiff, and Orchard was busy on nine separate events for five different clients,” he said.

“London is unique in the global business community, but Cardiff is two hours from that, and we’re seeing a lot of tech, financial, professional services and creative organisations relocating here, attracted by the lower relative costs, ease of navigation, a strong talent pool and a more balanced lifestyle.”

He echoed Howorth’s thoughts that skilled young talent can appreciate having a city on the doorstep, with Cardiff retaining a high level of its students.

Looking at the potential for growth of business in Cardiff, Powell added: “In global terms, the proximity of Cardiff to Bristol and Bath presents a real opportunity to promote the ‘cities of the Severn’ to an international audience. Of course, we want to retain our unique Welsh identity, but a critical mass comprising these major visitor attractions and business centres could create a real power base in the west that would make a compelling case for investment, and attract more young entrepreneurs.

“Cardiff’s expected to grow faster than any other major UK city, but with a large number of homes planned, local authorities need to make sure the infrastructure keeps pace, so we don’t end up with some of the traffic issues a city like Dublin gets.”

Property: Jeffrey Ross estate agents

As a property expert, Ross Hooper-Nash, the MD at Jeffrey Ross estate agents knows all about running a business in Cardiff, boasting three offices in the city. After operating in Cardiff for a decade, he looks upon the Welsh capital with fondness.

Cardiff is a special place for us. We launched Jeffrey Ross in Cardiff ten years ago and although it’s big enough to offer all the opportunities expected of a capital city, it’s still compact enough to retain a sense of community,” he said.

“As an estate agent, being based in Cardiff has been instrumental to our success over the past ten years – not only do we have a lot of beautiful properties in Cardiff, with a great deal of history, but there is also a real focus on innovation and technology here which keeps us constantly looking to the future.”

Business in Cardiff

“We firmly believe that Cardiff will always bring in great interest – there is so much on offer”

With looking forward in mind, Jeffrey Ross has embraced technology to keep the business moving forward and introduced virtual reality viewings to the business in 2017, making it the first Welsh estate agent to do so. Hooper-Nash explained that doing business in Cardiff, “a city that fosters innovation and that is open to new technology” was essential.

“London has always been a city of unlimited opportunity for business, particularly for entrepreneurs, and so basing a new business outside of the capital can be scary,” he opined.

“But we’ve definitely found that joining the flourishing business scene in Cardiff has more than paid dividends. The talent pool, support, and access to like-minded individuals here has allowed us to launch, build, and scale Jeffrey Ross at half the cost that we might have done in London.”

Adding why people appreciate living in Cardiff, he said: “We firmly believe that Cardiff will always bring in great interest – there is so much on offer, from major sporting events to sell-out stadium tours, but with access to stunning beaches and mountain scenery right on our doorstep.”

Care: Orbis Education and Care

Andy Brown is the FD of autism support company Orbis Education and Care. He considers Cardiff to be a “progressive city” as it continues to develop and believes business builders are playing a big role in the “positivity” surrounding its future.

“Although it is easy to get around London it takes time due to the size and density, which can be draining,” Brown said on the topic of accessibility

“You can leave the centre of Cardiff for a meeting and be back out in the middle of the Welsh countryside within 20 minutes! I also think Cardiff has a real identity, which a lot of other cities, and in my opinion London, struggles with at times due to the size of them.”

What would he change about running a business in Cardiff? More global companies need to recognise the city as a hub, he claims. “It’d be great to see even more national and international business choose Cardiff as a base for growth – much as Deloitte has done recently,” said Brown.

“Many of the big employers are home-grown success stories, such as Deloitte, and I think there is a real opportunity for the close-knit business community in Cardiff to ‘open its doors’ more and really sell the advantages of locating in Cardiff to those that are currently further afield.”

Insurance: ActiveQuote

ActiveQuote, a Cardiff-based life and health insurance comparison site, was created by serial entrepreneur Richard Theo, who has built businesses in the city for the past two years. Speaking with MD Rob Saunders, he said that the growth of the technology environment in Cardiff has powered ActiveQuote to its size today.

“We firmly believe that without the burgeoning tech scene in Cardiff, as well as the incredibly high number of skilled staff living in Wales, we wouldn’t be working at such a high-level today. ActiveQuote owes much of its success to the city,” offered Saunders.

“Another reason we launched in South Wales was because it is well known as a hub for the comparison website scene, and is already home to comparison giants like GoCompare and Confused. We really wanted ActiveQuote to be based somewhere that held so much potential for businesses like ours, and somewhere we knew could provide a great level of support.”

With lower costs than London, ActiveQuote has saved on overheads through operating in Cardiff, allowing it to invest more capital into technology development and recruitment, both of which fuel growth.

Business in Cardiff

“It would be beneficial for us to have greater access and links to universities here in Cardiff”

There’s nothing “outwardly missing” from Cardiff, according to Saunders, but there are a couple of things he’d like to see.

“It would be great to maximise on some already helpful areas. For example, we’d love to see the introduction of a strong insurance and technology hub in Cardiff. One that encompasses comparison sites like ActiveQuote as well as innovative businesses within the industry where collaboration could be encouraged,” he said.

“It would also be beneficial for us to have greater access and links to universities here in Cardiff. There are so many skilled graduates and aspiring entrepreneurs coming out of the university scene, and it would be great to be able to spend more time working with universities and have more opportunities for recruitment.”

Finance: Growth Street

Building on the confidence these leaders have for doing business in Cardiff, the broader Welsh business scene looks set to get equal support and enthusiasm in 2018, as alternative finance provider Growth Street has committed a £20m investment to Welsh SMEs.

Greg Carter, Growth Street CEO, said: “Welsh businesses have long been at the centre of industry in the UK. We already work with amazing Welsh businesses who are ambitious and excited about the future. By channelling this investment into Wales, we want to try and help SMEs all over the country fulfil their potential.”

Harri Lloyd-Davies, president of the South & Mid Wales Chambers of Commerce, added:  “Not only is Growth Street’s commitment a sign of confidence in the Welsh economy, it reinforces Wales’ status as a developing powerhouse for ambitious, growing businesses.”