Scotland is fast becoming one of the most popular destinations in Britain for business and start-ups. If you’re just starting your business or expanding north of the border, the Scottish Enterprise initiative offers support to companies based in or relocating to offices in Edinburgh and Glasgow.
But there’s been a long battle for business supremacy between the Scottish capital and it’s sibling across the central belt, with both Edinburgh and Glasgow having much to offer in the way of fertile environments in which to start and grow a business.
Hoping to win more devolved powers from Westminster in the wake of Brexit and a second independence referendum, Scotland might soon become the place to start a business, but which city should you choose?
Doing business in Edinburgh
Edinburgh has a rich history and a particularly buoyant tourist industry. Having long been the financial centre of Scotland, today the capital is a thriving centre for science, technology and startups. In 2015, the number of new startups in Edinburgh was calculated at 2,765 with a survival rate over five years of 37.2%.
By way of business support and accelerators, the Edinburgh Technology Transfer Centre works in partnership with the City of Edinburgh Council and seeks to act as a ‘launch-pad’ for startups and technology transfers. The University of Edinburgh, a world-leading education provider, is also dedicated to supporting the research and development of new innovations in the city. Geared towards companies in the science and technology industries, the university has four business and incubation centres including the Centre for Research and Innovation and Edinburgh Technopole.
Additional support is available to startups in the science and biomedical sectors at the Heriot Watt Research Park, Edinburgh’s “largest science park”, which acts as a hub for science and engineering research. There’s also a dedicated BioQuarter, an academic research centre that was developed and is maintained as part of a joint venture between NHS Lothian and the University of Edinburgh.
With a population of 498,800, Edinburgh is a small city, but it’s working age population qualified to NVQ Level 4 and above exceeded that of Glasgow in 2015, totalling at 193,400. But this talent pool doesn’t come cheap; salaries in Edinburgh are higher than the Scottish average with full-time weekly earnings, averaging £564.60 a week in 2016.
Edinburgh office space
Edinburgh office space is particularly suited to business startups. Technology incubator TechCube, for example, is a “world class” co-working space, complete with dedicated business services and community support. Other available premises include Leith-based The Edinburgh Office which provides open plan co-working spaces, and serviced offices in Edinburgh city centre operated by i2 Office are especially suited to businesses as they scale. The city’s business parks in West Edinburgh and South Gyle are also home to a growing mix of startups and small business ventures.
Edinburgh transport links
Edinburgh also offers a good central point for travel and commutes to client meetings. Scotland’s main airport Edinburgh International flies to 100 destinations, and direct trains run regularly to London via Newcastle and Leeds in just over 4 hours. Edinburgh is less than one hour’s drive along the M8 from Scotland’s other thriving startup cluster; Glasgow.
Doing business in Glasgow
Glasgow was once the industrial centre of Britain, with a thriving shipping and manufacturing industry. Today, Glasgow is also a fast-growing tech hotspot, with a vibrant creative industry too. In January 2015, Experis reported that Glasgow was one of a small cluster of tech hotspots “emerging out of London’s shadow“ and attracting highly skilled workers away from the capital. In 2015, the number of new startups in Glasgow was calculated at 2,880, with a survival rate over five years of 38.7%.
Business support is available from Glasgow’s two science parks: Hillington Innovation Centre and the West of Scotland Science Park. The Hillington Innovation Centre operates as a startup incubator with office premises and facilities on site. For startups in the fields of sciences and technology, the West of Scotland Science Park, which is a joint initiative between Scottish Enterprise and the Universities of Glasgow and Strathclyde, offers business facilities as well as university support.
And Glasgow’s Creative Clyde is a magnet for creative business, claiming to be a “natural home” for startups in digital technology, TV and film, entertainment and events. Home to BBC Scotland and STV, the hub has no shortage of top talent and networking opportunities, offering collaborations and partnerships.
Additional funding is being invested into the future of Glasgow after it was granted ‘Smart City’ status in 2013, winning a £24m grant from the Technology Strategy Board’s Future Cities Demonstrator competition.
Glasgow’s population is around 606,300, and offers a similarly skilled workforce, with almost half of in employment qualified to NVQ Level 3 and above, and 30% holding a degree. The city is able to boast such a highly skilled workforce owing largely to the four universities located within 10 miles of the city centre, as well as considerable investment in technical education in schools and colleges by local councils. While salaries are competitive, the average annual earnings in Glasgow is around £24,000, around 10% less than the equivalent figure for Edinburgh.
Glasgow office space
Glasgow’s accelerator programme Entrepreneurial Spark, which also has office spaces in Edinburgh and Ayrshire, provides funding and residency to early stage and growing ventures. Film City Glasgow also offers short-term production space for film industry professionals.
Commercial office space is widely available across the city, including Pacific Quay which caters specifically for businesses in the retail and leisure industries. The site also boasts co-working space ‘The Hub’, which has partner office space in a London building for entrepreneurs looking to work between the two cities.
Additional office space in the city centre includes Watermark Business Park and Trongate 103. Business overheads in Glasgow are generally 32% lower than in London for a comparable business.
Glasgow transport links
Like Edinburgh, Glasgow is just 13 minutes drive from a bustling international airport, and direct trains run regularly to London via Manchester in just 4.5 hours. A £40m ‘Fastlink’ bus transport programme and £300m subway modernisation programme is also underway to improve transport in Glasgow city centre.
Edinburgh or Glasgow?
If you’re looking to start or expand your business in Edinburgh or Glasgow, there’s more than adequate support available to do so. Depending on the nature of your business, you’ll likely find one city a better fit than the other, with Edinburgh playing host to the nation’s brightest biomedical and science researchers, and Glasgow supporting a booming creative industry.
Only you know which city is the better choice for you, but whichever you choose, you can be sure that Scotland is a fantastic environment to be building your business. With particular reference to a second Scottish Independence referendum, and distant hopes that Scotland could maintain access to the European single market after Brexit negotiations are through, both Edinburgh and Glasgow can bring you considerable business prosperity.