Look Beyond London is a new feature, in which Real Business will speak to entrepreneurs across Britain. We’ll hear how their towns compete with the Big Smoke for operating a company, so to get started we’ve heard from a handful of bosses running a business in Leeds.
When running a business in Leeds, the city is certainly an area for opportunity given the Northern Powerhouse movement taking place. Burberry is one such business in Leeds that feels the city is one ripe for change as it is reportedly relocating some 300 roles up north from the head office in London.
And in June, entrepreneurs conducting business in Leeds were to benefit from a £9m enterprise growth injection for the city, which is a top-up on an existing £18m pot.
Geoff Shepherd is MD of Leeds-based IT firm iSource Group and founder of Yorkshire Mafia – an event organiser that runs Leeds Business Week (LBW).
Discussing LBW and running a business in Leeds, he said: “We wanted to bring people together to the benefit of the wider business community, and through the Yorkshire Mafia and our experience of hosting some of the biggest events in the region we had the infrastructure in place to facilitate it.
“Coming across so many businesses in the Leeds City Region that wanted to meet, learn, share and work together, we realised that creating LBW was just one way that we could showcase that we are stronger together.”
Shepherd is keen to encourage companies and organisations to host events and show off their skills to targeted audiences eager to learn. Although dedicated to business in Leeds initially, people attend from surrounding areas of Sheffield, Huddersfield, Halifax and York.
“As the largest financial and legal centre outside of London, Leeds has a great deal to offer but it goes beyond professional services,” Shepherd continued.
“Regeneration continues to play a part in the reshaping of Leeds as a destination of choice for business and leisure. It is culturally rich and there is a real desire for people to live and work in the city and its surrounding district.”
He has experienced positivity from entrepreneurs in Leeds looking at the year ahead, while he expects that business growth will be powered by digital companies.
“It perhaps isn’t about what Leeds has that London hasn’t, but more about how we are able to work together. If people put their minds to it they can make things happen. I would like to think that we are a very clear example of that.
“We have brought some of the leading global entrepreneurs to the stage here in Yorkshire and have attributed over £100m of economic impact to the region. Few community-led organisations can confidently say that they have made that kind of difference with no public funding.”
Closing on how the north can truly become a powerhouse, he would like to see more action strategy for the Northern Powerhouse when it comes to scale, rather than talk.
“For the north to become a powerhouse we must make things happen. Hyperloop is just one example. Why are we continuing to invest our time and energy in HS2 when we could look into a transport system that exists and can move people from one side of the country to the other in minutes not hours?
“Leeds is a fantastic city with great potential but we need more people to step up to the mark. We could do more and we need to be focusing on world class and leading innovations.”
Elsewhere, Leeds-born Jeff Long heads up SME support network Business Doctors and admits he hasn’t strayed too far from the city for work.
“I have seen Leeds develop and grow into an amazing place for both business and leisure. Working as a Business Doctor in Leeds, helping SMEs with everything from finding funding to planning and achieving growth, I knew that I was plugged into an extremely vibrant and ambitious business community,” he said.
“We all benefit from being concentrated in a relatively small geographic area and are backed by a huge amount of local and regional support.”
Long believes that the Leeds City LEP is one of the most pro-business LEPs in the country, offering advice and support for growth businesses from countless sectors, and for that reason he believes any business in Leeds is in the ideal place for scale.
“We also have three quality universities, all actively engaged with the local business community and, as a major centre for creative, digital, legal and financial services, businesses have local access to everything they need,” he detailed.
“Being a relatively small city in terms of geography, there is a very close business community, which is very easy to connect with.”
Referencing Shepherd’s efforts, he continued: “There are tremendous networking opportunities, underpinned by groups such as The Yorkshire Mafia, who organise some incredible events and have really galvanised the local and regional business community.
“The presence in the city of an Entrepreneurial Spark incubator has also brought some really talented and creative individuals into the heart of the city.”
He said it would be “naïve” to think Leeds can offer things London can’t but added that the potential for quality of life is better.
“One of the great things I find is the ease of access to all parts of the city region. This makes doing business so much easier,” Long offered.
“Transport links are generally good and we have some of the most amazing countryside within a ten to 15-minute drive of the city centre, which leads to perhaps a quality of life that outshines the capital.
“If anything, I would say that one things Leeds could do better is shout a great deal louder about what a great place it is to do business.”
On the next page, read how high-growth digital firms are making an impact to doing business in Leeds, and why one firm sold its London division, only to launch another.
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