The world's best start-up hubs: London, England

Kicking off our look at the world’s best start-up hubs is Lexie Sport founder and Virgin StartUp entrepreneur Lily Rice, who assess the credentials of London’s thriving microbusiness scene...

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  • Population: 8.3 million
  • Pros: The world’s most visited city, a very strong cultural offering, the largest concentration of higher education in Europe, home to much of the world’s media and biggest companies.
  • Cons: It’s expensive, very, very expensive. There’s also a lot of competition for talent, office space and just about everything else.
  • Cost: You won’t find many– if any at all – more expensive cities to start up in.
  • What to expect: A city bursting at the seams with creative talent alongside plenty of organisations, many not for profit, helping your start-up get off the ground.

London, England’s capital city. A major settlement for two millennia since its founding by the Romans, the most populous region in the United Kingdom and arguably the world’s greatest start-up hub. As the region with the Britain’s highest number of start-ups at 22% - with 484,224 businesses started in 2013 - London has some serious entrepreneurial spirit.

So what makes the city such a hot house for brilliant ideas? A bustling cultural capital, London is the world’s most visited city, ranked as ‘The European City of the Future’ by FDi Magazine. It boasts a diverse range of people and cultures, with more than 300 documented languages spoken within its bursting borders, no wonder London has given birth to so many new ideas.

London also boasts the largest concentration of higher education in Europe, meaning that not only are original ideas fresh and frequent (and from all over the world) but there’s always a new crop of talent keen to get onboard an exciting start-up journey.

A perfect pitch for investment, London generates approximately 20 per cent of the UK's GDP, meaning there are plenty of knowledgeable dragons (or angels, depending on how you look at it) keen to take start-ups to the next level. And as London is one of the pre-eminent financial centers of the world, they often bring heaps of financial experience with them too.

Over 100 of Europe's 500 largest companies - along with 75 per cent of Fortune 500 companies - have offices in London.

Need heaps of bright staff keen to join your team or consumers ripe to buy your product or service? An official population of 8,308,369 in 2012 makes London the most populous municipality in the European Union, and accounts for 12.5% of the UK population.

Over 100 of Europe's 500 largest companies – along with 75 per cent of Fortune 500 companies - have offices in London, so there’s plenty of chance to either work with, for (no one said you couldn’t work and make awesome contacts whilst perfecting that business plan) or poach from some of the world’s greatest (although we didn’t suggest that last one).

Most national newspapers and magazines are created in London so there’s ample opportunity for press and thanks to the amazing transport (OK we know that hiding in someone’s armpit during rush hour doesn’t seem that great, but you’re an entrepreneur, make your own hours, ones that don’t include the rush hour stampede) you can whip that sample or invite over to the journalists and be back to your meetings with a chai latte ASAP. 

A major retail center that just four years ago had the highest non-food retail sales of any city in the world, with a total spend of around £64.2 billion, London is great news for start-ups looking to turn ideas into cash.

So what are the downsides? Well we’d like to say there aren’t any, but having been in business for nearly a year we can testify to some hiccups along the way.

On the last count Greater London had 27 million m2 of office space, something you may begin to need as your business and team grow. Unfortunately, London also has some of the highest real estate prices in the world, something that can be tricky to navigate for start-ups. On average the price per square meter in central London is €24,252 (April 2014), higher than the property prices in similar cities such as Berlin, Rome and Paris.

A popular tourist destination with over 14 million international visitors per year, London is great if you have a line of novelty Union Jack pants, less so if you’re trying to navigate 10 meetings in one day and Laura from Germany is desperate to stand on the left side of the escalator with six bursting Primark bags.

And while we love the many museums, galleries and parks London has to offer (often for free we might add) sometimes you just need to get out of the city for some thinking space. Playful, exciting and exuberant, the city can also become claustrophobic and suffocating. But despite all this London just has that little bit of magic that can make a difference to a start-up’s success.

To quote Hugh Grant, our beloved Prime minster (well kind of) “We may be a small country but we're a great one, too. The country of Shakespeare, Churchill, the Beatles, Sean Connery, Harry Potter. David Beckham's right foot. David Beckham's left foot, come to that.” And London is the jewel in our crown.

Home to designers Vivienne Westwood, Stella McCartney and Jimmy Choo, the world’s greatest pop stars the Rolling Stones, David Bowie and the Spice Girls, supermodels, writers and artists known the world over. And sights such as Buckingham Palace, Tower Bridge, Parliament, Number 10 Downing St, Trafalgar Square and Westminster Abbey. 

Lastly, great British businesses born and bred in our capital from Philip Green’s Arcadia to Innocent smoothies down in Ladbroke grove.

So if you’re keen to make some bread and honey and have a bubble bath, don’t do it on your Todd Sloane, join the other 136,939 start-ups happening in London, the world’s best start up hub - dodgy cockney slang optional.

-This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details.

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