Wales – the best place to start a new business?

Professor Dylan Jones-Evans OBE

University of South Wales

When setting up a new business in the UK, it might be thought that very few would think of Wales as a place to locate their new venture.

Yet, the latest data from the Centre for Entrepreneurs (CFE) thinktank showed that over the five year period between 2015 and 2019, over 82,000 new firms were created in the Welsh economy. This represents a growth in start-ups of 21% as compared to 12% for the UK as a whole.

Should this be surprising? Certainly, not to those of us who live and work within the Welsh economy where a vibrant enterprise ecosystem has been developing over the last five years based on true engagement and alignment between five key core stakeholder groups namely government, corporate, academia, risk capital, and the entrepreneurial community.

As a result, there has been a strong business community created which is there to support new firms both formally and informally.

For example, the Development Bank of Wales remains the only institution of its type in the UK and was established to provide debt and equity funding to small and medium sized businesses. Since 2001, it has invested over £700m into Welsh businesses, creating 24,000 jobs in the process.

Welsh universities are also supporting new businesses and with the development of greater numbers of innovative firms are key to the development of a more competitive economy, the promotion of greater levels of entrepreneurship within higher education in Wales certainly has a role to play in this.

Certainly, there were proportionally higher levels of graduate start-ups from Welsh universities than for the rest of the UK and Wales also does better than the UK in terms of university spinouts i.e. those businesses that are developed from academic intellectual property. Indeed, the Welsh Government recently stated that it intends to make Wales “the best place in the UK for the number of graduate businesses”.

But it is not only start-ups that are having an impact on the Welsh economy but also scale-ups.

Initiatives such as the Fast Growth 50 – which recognises the fastest growing Welsh firms annually – have shown that Wales has the businesses that are making a real difference in their industries and continue to create wealth and employment in their local communities.

In fact, the 628 firms that have appeared on the 21 Fast Growth 50 lists over the period 1999-2019 have created 42,000 jobs and generated £24 billion of additional turnover, much of which is spent in their local area.

Last year, the fastest growing firm in Wales was Bad Wolf, the TV production company that achieved an amazing growth rate of 2668% in growing from a turnover of £2 million in 2016 to an incredible £50 million in 2018.

Through the development of new series such as the “Discovery of Witches” for Sky TV and “His Dark Materials” for the BBC, they are the driving force behind a renaissance in the creative industries in Cardiff and the rest of Wales.

Therefore, Wales is quickly becoming an attractive location for entrepreneurs to set up and grow their businesses. With cheaper office space, lower living costs for employees, access to talent from the university sector and one of the best enterprise support environments in the UK, it is no surprise that more companies are seeing the benefits of doing business from a base in Wales.

And, more importantly, this is in a country which is ranked by many as having some of the most beautiful landscapes in the World. For example, the Lonely Planet guide recently named the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park one of the UK’s very best experiences, offering “staggering beauty, adventure and a wonderful escape”.

So for those who want to set up a business in Wales, you can have the best of both worlds at a time when having a work-life balance is an essential for achieving competitive advantage in the new normal UK economy.

Come and join us – you are most welcome.