Digital Hotbeds: Go West – the Rebirth of Bristol
In the latest instalment of its tour around the UK in search of digital innovation, NMK's Chris Lee headed west to visit an unsung corner alive with ideas: Bristol.
It might come as a surprise to learn that Bristol is not only the UK’s most ecologically sustainable city, according to the European Union, but it is also the most attractive UK city to invest in after London (FDi) and one of the “World’s top 10 cities to visit 2008” (DK Eyewitness travel guides). Add excellent transport links, urban regeneration and two sizeable universities and you have the perfect mix for a creative culture.
West is Best
Auros is a Bristol-based company which provides web content management systems. The company’s managing director is Dominic Mills and he believes the vibrancy of the city helps attract and retain digital talent.
“I think one of the main attractions of Bristol as a place to establish a corporate headquarters is the wealth of fantastic people,” Mills told NMK. “As a centre of commerce it tends to attract a huge range of people, not just from the South West and Wales, but also those from other cities across the UK who see Bristol as a less ‘urban’ option, with all of the advantages of a big city and few of the disadvantages.”
Above: Dominic Mills, Auros
Auros is actively engaged with several local business networks and member-based organisations including GWE Business West as well as working with The University of the West of England and other regional local government and development organisations.
Bristol City Council is heavily involved in various projects to promote Bristol businesses, including Invest In Bristol and the Bristol Enterprise Development Fund, and there are also private projects in operation, such as BRAVE, South West Business Network and the Bristol Enterprise Network (BEN).
One of the main broadband providers to organisations in the city is ntl:Telewest Business. The company has rolled out fast connections to local firms using a fibre optic network delivered to street level as opposed to conventional copper. ntl:Telewest Business, part of Virgin Media, will be rolling out 50 Megabits-per-second (Mbps) broadband services to businesses this summer which the company says will help assist Bristol’s digital industries.
“Bristol is now something of a mecca for the creative industries. Besides this being a great part of the world to live in, the city offers a superb commercial set-up for companies and particularly good high-speed communications,” said Jo Harte, business sales manager for ntl:Telewest Business in Bristol.
Alterian develops what it says is an “integrated marketing software platform combining database, online and operational marketing applications on a shared data infrastructure.”
The company’s CEO David Eldridge says that Bristol is ideal for digital start-ups due to quality of the local business support available and lower overall costs.
“As a start up company, you need to make cost savings wherever you can, and I think this is another key reason for the success of so many great digital companies in our local area,” he said. “Lower costs and overheads mean that Bristol-based companies can really compete with the London-based agencies on price and deliverables – and with such easy access to London and a great pool of talent, the opportunity cost of being based outside of the M25 is clear.”
So what of the social media scene? PR Bristol is a firm dedicated to helping promote the city and Bristol Media also aims to encourage local business opportunities and draw creative talent to the South West.
Kate Gordon of PR firm Ruder Finn, a London-based agency which has an office in the city to service burgeoning IT firms in the area, says the town has turned itself around in recent years.
“The city has grown considerably over the past 10-15 years with a lot of investment and inner city regeneration,” she said. “I think this has changed the perception of the city that I remember from my childhood and teen years of it being a ‘bit of a dump’ to a hotbed of creativity and a much nicer place to visit and live in. Traditional creative industries are now evolving into digital ones.”