At Virgin StartUp, we know that the startup world doesn’t end at London. Some of the most exciting businesses are starting up in all corners of the UK. Wherever you start your business, each town, city or region has its own challenges – but also its own unique benefits. And how better to find out more about these then asking the entrepreneurs doing it right now?
Virgin StartUp ambassador Tom Birbeck is the founder of Arc-Marine, a business specialising in designing, producing and deploying artificial reef structures. They work closely with local councils, environmental agencies and other NGOs to rehabilitate damaged marine habitat across the world. Here’s how Tom started a business in Torquay.
Can you explain what your company does in a few sentences?
We design and build artificial structures, which regenerate marine ecosystems into a thriving habitat. Our clients range from renewable energy companies looking to protect their offshore turbine farms, to a private island/hotel wanting a bespoke dive attraction to boost ecotourism.
The end result is the same. Our oceans are a happier, sustainable place for everyone to enjoy.
Who did you speak to in Torquay for advice, and how did they help you?
Gaining permission to create an artificial reef comes with a lot of legislation, and to do so we had to seek permission from Torbay council and the Harbour authority. We had enormous support from the local harbourmaster and our local MP Kevin Foster for building the first reef of its kind in the UK.
We spoke to dive schools and local dive shops and learnt about previous attempts to create an artificial reef in Torquay. This helped as we learnt where these attempts had failed, and began conversations early with the relevant environmental andgoverning bodies. It was clear from what we had learnt that funding was going to be tricky, so we decided to go down the Virgin StartUp route - and here we are today!
Did you go to any networking events in Torquay, and were they any good?
We learnt of an entrepreneur group in Torquay who meet quarterly. However we haven’t been able to attend due to prior commitments on their meet-up evenings. I believe the profile of networking groups in Torbay is relatively low and is something I would like to change as a Virgin Ambassador.
Why is Torquay a good place to do business?
Within our industry we have the unique challenge of picking potential sites based on marine life. Torquay has some of the most diverse and rare ecosystems in the UK. Torbay itself is a designated MCZ (marine conservation zone) area, which protects the coast from destructive fishing and development. The Devonian seahorse and the pink sea fan are both UK BAP Priority Species, with their populations and habitat seen as a conservation priority. Both species can be found near our project site, which was a good reason to build our first artificial reef here.
Where in Torquay do you base yourself and why?
We work out of shared office space from Unit 7 on Beacon Quay, down at the harbour. It makes sense for us to be close to the marina in which we operate our survey vessel from. Torbay harbour authority is located next door, which is very convenient as we work closely with them.
What advice would you give to other people looking to start a business in Torquay?
Take advantage of the location! After living in London, it’s refreshing to be out of a busy city and take in the sea air. Our office space overlooks the harbour and helps promote a good first impression at meetings.
Is it expensive to start a business in Torquay?
Compared to cities, no. Torquay is on the up and property values have risen; however, compared to Bristol and Exeter, we found office space cheaper, and with better facilities.
What types of business do well in Torquay?
All aspects of the building trade are popular here and there is always work for skilled tradesmen. New developments are popping up everywhere, with lots of opportunity for new shops and office space. Torquay is well known for its fish and chips, and the harbourside is buzzing with a wide selection of restaurants, bars and hotels.