The media view of startups may often focus on tech businesses in London - but we know that startups are regenerating industries and areas all over the UK. However, the experience of starting up in somewhere such as the north of England is very different to starting up somewhere such as London.

Titus Learning provide online learning solutions for schools in the UK and overseas - allowing teachers, students and parents to easily share learning resources, track progress and keep in the know! Here’s how founder Seb Francis started a business in Yorkshire. Titus Learning received their Virgin StartUp loan after working with Airedale Enterprise Services, one of our Virgin StartUp delivery partners.

Who did you speak to in your region for advice, and how did they help you?

I started by chatting with our local advisor, David Gagen, from Airedale Enterprise Services (AES). It was the first business I’d started, so it’s fair to say there was a lot to learn! David and AES helped massively with not only the access to Virgin StartUp (VSU) and funding, but also working on the business plan, forecasts, and looking further ahead at things like employment. We still stay in touch, and their help is part of the reason I’m now a VSU ambassador!

Did you go to any networking events in Leeds or Bradford - what were they, and were they any good?

If I’m honest I’ve been to plenty...some better than others! VSU and AES have hosted a couple which are really useful, as you’re chatting with people in a very similar position to yourself, and I’ve made a number of good friends off the back of those.

As you’re growing (or potentially at the beginning) you’ll also be looking for finance, ranging anywhere from the thousands to millions. Therefore any investment events you can attend to get a better understanding of the world of finance (it’s pretty complex!) will be massively helpful, even if it’s for future planning.

Finally, we attend quite a few events in London and overseas - these will be very specific to our EdTech market, and usually have some sales opportunities as well to cover the cost.

Why is Yorkshire a good place to do business?

Yorkshire isn’t called ‘God’s Own County’ for nothing!

On a serious note, starting a business in the Leeds/Bradford area has been much easier than anticipated. The prices are much more reasonable than the south of the country, and this helps massively in the early days, not only with business costs, but also your own living costs. The transport links are getting better and better, so we can easily be in London in a couple of hours, and we have great international links from Manchester Airport, which is important for us servicing international clients. The talent in terms of employment opportunities is also great. Lastly, it will be interesting to see how the ‘Northern Powerhouse’ impacts things over the next few years, but it can only be a positive!

Seb Francis, Titus Learning - Virgin StartUp

Seb Francis, Titus Learning - Virgin StartUp

Where in Leeds/Bradford is your office and why did you base it there?

We initially started teleworking, with our small team and contractors all having home offices. Whilst I’d certainly recommend working from home in the early days, it’s really important to have some separation with your working space otherwise you’ll go stir crazy with your work-life balance.

As the team has grown we’ve just moved into an office in Bradford City Centre. As well as having all the tech/communication facilities we need to keep things running smoothly, we also picked it’s fairly central location so the commute wasn’t too far for any of us. We still have the odd days working at home and are pretty flexible on that front.

What advice would you give to other people looking to start a business in the region?

In general my advice on this would have to be: DO IT! It needs to be well thought through, and make sure you go through the process of validating your idea, but don’t be afraid of failing or putting your idea out to the world. I’d also say the younger you are (and most probably have less responsibilities) the better.

For Leeds/Bradford specifically; chat with the likes of AES and VSU, look at some of the entrepreneur incubators that are being set up, check out Finance Yorkshire (and others similar) for other financing options, get to networking events like Yorkshire Mafia, etc. The last point (and probably one we didn’t do too much) is research the local area to see what demand there will be for your product - if you can have your customers, testers, advocates, close by then it’s always a bonus!

Is it expensive to start a business in Leeds/Bradford?

As mentioned above, it’s much cheaper in Yorkshire than it would be down south, but depending on the area, cost can start to rack up. Until you start hiring staff, some of the highest costs will be office rent. If you can avoid getting an office or premises immediately then that will pull your fixed costs down. If you do need a premises right away then look at some of the towns/villages on the outskirts. It’s worthwhile thinking about your potential client base and what they’ll expect from you as well!

What types of businesses do well?

There’s such a diversity of businesses in Leeds/Bradford, it’s becoming a really attractive place for people to study, work and live. It has a very strong financial and legal centre so we’re seeing more of those type of companies pop up. It’s also becoming somewhat of a tech hub - the talent coming out of the universities is brilliant and you have some of the larger tech firms with a presence here. Last one...I’m a bit of a foodie, so it’s awesome to see so many new bars and restaurants opening up. It was great to meet the guys from Red’s True BBQ at the recent FastTrack 100 and VSU Ambassador day...just make sure you’re hungry if you take on The Donut Burger™!

Any other tips?

I’ve kind of taken inspiration for this answer from Simon and Michael’s post, but I couldn’t agree more. You won’t have all the answers, and whilst it’s important in the early days to keep costs low, as soon as you can start outsourcing work, or bringing someone on at an early stage as a partner, it will really lift the strain from you and allow you to grow the business. We certainly wouldn’t be in the position we are now if it wasn’t for how Mike, our co-founder, and I work together, and you’ve got someone to share the journey with: goods and bads!

 

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