Top 10 Startup Hubs in the UK | 2021 Ranking

| Hannah Skingle

The United Kingdom has an enviable startup ecosystem, attracting talented entrepreneurs from across Europe and beyond, and building world-class businesses like Revolut, Wise and Graphcore. London is the centre of the UK’s high-growth economy. Home to 11.8k ambitious companies and attracting £6.79b of venture capital investment in 2020 alone, the European capital of fintech is giving Silicon Valley a run for its money. But outside the Capital, there are plenty of smaller cities building their own leading tech hubs. 

As stated in our recent Unlocking Growth report, produced in collaboration with Barclays Eagle Labs: 

“The benefits of well-cultivated technology ecosystems are not to be overlooked. Early-stage innovative businesses are more likely to survive, leading to the development of new products and markets, as well as fostering business cooperation and healthy competition. High-growth companies can contribute to both regional and national economies with increased revenues, use of local office space and offering jobs which upskill the workforce and attract top talent from overseas.”

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Unlocking Growth Eagle Labs Report

Indeed, aside from the high-growth companies themselves, there are a whole host of supporting organisations that help local business areas prosper. Government bodies like local enterprise partnerships (LEPs) and growth hubs, business incubators and accelerators, and universities fostering deep tech innovations all have a part to play in a thriving high-growth ecosystem. Not to mention the venture capitalist and private equity funds, and growing number of angel networks, that are deploying growth capital across the country, and enabling startups to scale. 

Here, we’ve gone into further detail on each of the top 10 startup cities in the UK, outside of London, by the number of active high-growth companies in the respective local authority. We’re pleased to see that every UK region has been represented on the list. So does your local hub make the cut?

Top UK Cities for Startups and Scaleups

Edinburgh

The best city for startups in the UK, outside of London, is the Scottish capital, Edinburgh. The medieval city is now home to 638 high-growth companies, employing an estimated 24k people. In Edinburgh, 26% of high-growth businesses with known founder genders are female-founded, slightly higher than the national average of 25%. And a little under half (294) of its high-growth companies operate in tech, employing 6k people. 

Most of the high-growth companies in the City of Edinburgh are clustered around the city centre and the port district of Leith.

Venture capital investment into Edinburgh’s startup scene has been growing fairly steadily since 2011, when just £22.5m was announced across 18 rounds. Between 2011 and October 2021, there have been 711 announced rounds, worth a combined £1.08b. The largest of these was secured by (now exited) unicorn company Skyscanner, which raised £128m in January 2016, before being bought by Chinese travel firm trip.com later that year.

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Top companies in Edinburgh

Other Edinburgh-based companies that have secured significant VC investment include vertical farming company Intelligence Growth Solutions (£56.4m across 11 rounds), online games developer Build A Rocket Boy (£50m across three rounds) and floating tidal turbine manufacturer, Orbital Marine Power (£39.3m across 14 rounds).

Top investors in Edinburgh

The most prolific investor into Edinburgh and the surrounding area is invariably Scottish Enterprise, a public body of the Scottish Government which encourages economic development, enterprise and innovation through investment. The fund manager has backed over 390 deals into companies in the city. 

Another big name investor in the Edinburgh area is Archangels, an angel network first formed in 1992 and now with more than 100 members. The syndicate has backed more than 30 companies, around two thirds of which are based in Edinburgh.

Innovation in Edinburgh

Edinburgh’s innovation ecosystem is driven in large part by its world-leading university, the University of Edinburgh. One of the oldest universities in the world, the institution has spun-out 56 companies, four of which have exited the market and 40 of which are still actively growing as private companies. Two of the most notable of these are Resolution Therapeutics, which has raised £28m to fund the development of specialised cell therapies targeting inflammatory organ disease, and pureLiFi, which has raised £22.3m for its pioneering technology, enabling the transmission of information via LED light (in a similar way to WiFi). 

Within the whole city of Edinburgh, there are 61 active spinout companies, 27 of which were not born at the University of Edinburgh. This includes 12 from Heriot-Watt University, four from Edinburgh Napier University, and three from the University of Dundee.

Manchester

The second most populous city for high-growth companies in the UK (outside of London) is Manchester, home to 515 businesses that employ 30.3k people. A significant chunk of these businesses (41%) operate in the tech sector, collectively employing 6k people. Despite all its strengths, Manchester has a very low proportion of female-founded businesses, at just 20%, compared with the national average of 25%.

Whilst the majority of equity funding in the UK is funnelled into the Capital, companies in Manchester have successfully attracted £1.41b of investments across 363 announced rounds since 2011, with a record 51 completed in 2020.

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Top companies in Manchester

The Manchester-based company that’s raised the most equity funding is e-commerce giant The Hut Group (£986m) followed by payday lender Wonga (£99.7m). THG exited the private market via an IPO in September 2020, whilst Wonga collapsed into administration in August 2018. 

Of those companies in Manchester that remain private and active, Peak is the best-funded, having raised £89m across eight rounds. Peak develops AI-based software that is integrated into businesses’ systems with the aim of using existing data to improve efficiencies and decision making. The data provision firm is backed by MMC Ventures, Octopus Ventures, Oxx, Praetura Ventures, Arete Capital Partners and Softbank Vision Fund.

Top investors in Manchester

GC Angels takes the crown as the most active investor in Manchester, with at least 29 fundraisings under its belt, and 25 companies under its wing. Based in Manchester itself, the network has over 400 associate angels, institutional capital partners and in-house co-funds, and seeks to support SMEs raising early-stage, scaleup and growth risk capital, ranging from £25k – £2m. 

Maven Capital Partners comes in second, having backed 17 companies, through 23 fundraisings. Most of these (21) have been deployed by Maven’s NPIF Equity Finance fund. This fund is backed by the Government’s British Business Bank, and invests between £50k to £2m at a time, with funding available to companies in the North West of England, Yorkshire and the Humber and the Tees Valley. Publicly-backed NPIF equity funds are also being deployed across the North West by Mercia Asset Management.

Innovation in Manchester

Manchester is home to 29 active spinout companies, 24 of which were born out of the University of Manchester. The Manchester-based spinouts that have raised the most investment, however, have migrated from institutions in other areas. Zilico, which spun-out from the University of Sheffield in 2006, has raised £24.2m across fourteen rounds, to develop a device to diagnose cervical cancer. Meanwhile, Cytox, which spun-out of the universities of Oxford and Birmingham in 2006, has raised £12.5m across ten rounds, in order to develop diagnostic tests for Alzheimer’s.

Leeds

The Yorkshire city of Leeds is home to 506 high-growth companies, employing around 52.4k people. 22% of these companies are female-led, lower than the national average of 25%, likely because of the city’s strong cluster of more established sectors, like built environment, infrastructure and industrial businesses, which are traditionally male-dominated sectors. Indeed, the city only hosts 142 ambitious tech companies, representing just 28% of all high-growth companies in the area (compared to 41% in Manchester, 45% in London and 46% in Edinburgh). Ambitious businesses in Leeds are predominantly based in the city centre and near the train station.

The high-growth companies in Leeds represent 26% of all those in Yorkshire and the Humber, making it the biggest startup hub in the region.

In total, companies based in Leeds have attracted £561m of equity funding across 185 rounds. 2021 is already a record year for the city, with 31 rounds announced between January and October.

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Top companies in Leeds

Known as the UK’s second banking centre, Leeds is home to a number of leading financial services firms, including Reward Finance, which provides alternative loan funding for SMEs. The company has secured £50m across two funding rounds, and is backed by Foresight VCT. Although Reward Finance operates on a traditional finance model, it is surrounded by a number of more modern fintech firms. In fact, of the 14 high-growth fintech companies that call Yorkshire and The Humber home, six are based in Leeds and 12 in the wider Leeds City Region LEP. Helping to foster this growing fintech community is FinTech North, a collaborative platform designed to bring together ideas, challenges and best practices in the sector, and showcase innovative fintech startups in the North of England. 

Outside of the financial sector, Leeds is also home to Encon Insulation, backed by £54m worth of equity and loan investment, and care service provider Maria Mallaband Care Group, which has £50m of equity funding under its belt.

Top investors in Leeds

Funding rounds in Leeds are most commonly backed by crowdfunding platform Crowdcube, which has facilitated 15 fundraisings across 15 companies, and BGF (formerly Business Growth Fund), which has supported eight companies through 15 fundraisings.

Innovation in Leeds

Leeds is currently home to just 13 active spinout companies, the majority of which have been nurtured through the University of Leeds. This includes C-Capture, which develops a solvent system to capture carbon dioxide from the gas streams of power generation sites, which has raised £11.7m of investment across four funding rounds, and LUNAC Therapeutics, a startup developing anticoagulant drugs to prevent thrombosis, which has raised £9.75m across three funding rounds so far. 

The universities of Manchester, Leeds, and Sheffield recently joined forces to launch a new investment vehicle, Northern Gritstone, in order to boost the commercialisation of spinouts in the region, so we expect an increasing number of innovative businesses to choose Leeds as their home in the next decade.

Bristol

Following very closely behind Leeds, Bristol is home to 495 active, high-growth companies. These collectively employ around 25.8k people, 6k of which are employed by (187) technology companies. And a healthy 28% of fast-growing businesses in Bristol have at least one female founder. 

The capital of the South West, Bristol is a centre for several technology sectors, including cleantech and semiconductors, which has made the city an incredibly attractive place for investors from far and wide.

Between January 2011 and October 2021, Bristol-based companies have secured £1.99b worth of equity funding, across 621 rounds. 2021 has already been a record year for the city in terms of amount raised (£494m), and is set to break the record volume of deals as well, currently standing at 34, compared with 2019’s total of 36.

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Top companies in Bristol

AI company Graphcore has secured the most funding in Bristol, with £528m raised to date, across seven rounds. The unicorn company has developed a processor optimised for machine learning tasks, and technology to accelerate machine learning applications both in servers and in the cloud. It also provides an open source machine learning development framework in C++ and Python. 

Fellow unicorn firm, OVO Group, is the second best-funded company in Bristol, having raised £259m to date, across four rounds. OVO comprises a number of clean energy companies, including OVO Energy, which supplies gas and electricity, and has managed to stay afloat amid the 2021 energy crisis, unlike rival company Bulb

Top investors in Bristol

Over the past decade, crowdfunding platform Seedrs has become the most active investor in the city of Bristol, participating in 46 rounds for 19 companies. One of the UK’s leading angel networks, Bristol Private Equity Club, follows in second, with at least 20 fundraisings for 15 companies. Founded in 2016, the network aims to invest in three to four deals per year, with around £1m deployed via the club in order to allow local businesses to compete and grow on a national scale.

Innovation in Bristol

The University of Bristol is the largest independent employer in the city, and a key driving force in terms of innovation too. 29 of the 34 active academic spinouts in the city were born out of the University of Bristol, including Ultraleap, which develops hardware that tracks spatial movements of the user, allowing them to interact with digital content, and Xmos, which designs and retails fabless semiconductors for a range of industries. To date, these companies have secured £121m and £59m of equity finance, respectively. 

Spinouts from the University of Bristol benefit from business incubation and tailored programmes across a variety of disciplines, as well as a range of support with the commercialisation process. Venture fund Parkwalk Advisors deploys capital to a selection of these spinouts via its University of Bristol Enterprise Fund. To date, the fund has announced participation in 15 funding rounds, backing 11 companies.

According to Sifted, one of Bristol’s most successful founders is now working to put Bristol on the medtech map, and make the city the UK’s most prolific medtech hub. Harry Destecroix made his fortune when his biotech startup Ziylo was acquired by Novo Nordisk for a hefty $800m (£623m) in 2018. Ziylo developed a form of molecules, known as Biomimetic Glucose Binding Molecules, that are used in carbohydrate sensing technology. The company applied this technology to develop improved tools for diabetics, including Smart Insulin systems. 

Harry is seeking to expand the success of Bristol’s innovation system by investing in both companies and infrastructure in the city, having built an incubator with lab space in 2017 for Ziylo. The Science Creates incubator has recently expanded to its second location, on Old Market, for larger startups. Watch this space to see how Bristol’s innovation ecosystem evolves over the next few years…

Glasgow

Home to around 11% of Scotland’s population, Glasgow City punches above its weight for high-growth companies, hosting 19% of active ambitious companies in the country. 

A total of 458 high-growth companies in Glasgow are tracked on the Beauhurst platform, employing an estimated 50k people. The city is a brilliant ecosystem for female entrepreneurs, with around 30% of high-growth firms (with known gender data) founded by at least one woman. Unlike other startup hubs across the country, the majority of female-founded businesses in Glasgow (70%) have an all-female founding team, rather than a mixed-gender founding team. 

34% of high-growth companies in Glasgow (158) operate in the tech sector, and collectively employ 3.6k people.

Between January 2011 and October 2021, Glaswegian companies announced 263 fundraisings, totalling £341m. Almost a third of this figure, £105m, was deployed in 2021 alone.

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Top companies in Glasgow

So which company has secured the most investment? Of the active private companies in Glasgow, producer of meat alternatives ENOUGH has raised the most, with £44.9m secured across five rounds. Spun-out from the University of Strathclyde in 2016 as 3F Bio, the company rebranded in April 2021 and is now producing ABUNDA® mycoprotein that can be made into vegan meats, dairy and seafood products, which it supplies on a B2B model. The company claims that the impact of introducing 1m tonnes of ABUNDA mycoprotein by 2032 is equivalent to replacing 5m cows, over 1b chickens and reducing 5m+ tonnes of CO2 emissions.

The second best funded company in Scotland is Twig World, which offers schools film-based learning materials on a subscription basis. The company has raised £21.8m of equity, across six rounds, with backers including DC Thomson Ventures, Scottish Enterprise and Imperial College London. 

Following closely behind is M Squared, which has raised £21.4m across five funding rounds. M Squared develops photonics and quantum technology, including the design and manufacture of lasers, optical instruments and integrated quantum systems with applications in quantum research, biophotonics and chemical sensing. It has also secured an astonishing 80 grants worth a combined £22.4m. The 18-year-old company most recently reported an operating profit of £2.08m, and turnover of £16.5m (2021). 

Top investors in Glasgow

Scottish Enterprise is invariably the most active investor into Glasgwegian companies. The government-backed agency has supported at least 62 companies in Glasgow, and a further 266 across the wider nation, through more than 800 fundraisings.

Kerry Sharp, Director, Growth Investments at Scottish Enterprise, recently told us that:

“Scotland is widely recognised as having a supportive entrepreneurial ecosystem with entrepreneurs, spinouts, and early-stage companies able to benefit from the support offered by Scottish Enterprise, Scotland’s economic development agency. This includes SE’s High-Growth Spinout Programme (HGSP), which offers financial and wrap-around advisory support, aimed at commercialising Scotland’s research strengths—with a focus on the commercialisation of leading-edge technologies in Scotland’s universities, research institutes, and NHS Boards.”

Innovation in Glasgow

Glasgow is home to five universities, including the University of Glasgow, University of Strathclyde and Glasgow Caledonian University, each of which place in the top 250 Times Higher Education World University Rankings. Not only do these institutions attract swathes of international talent to the city, they also bolster Glasgow’s position as a world-class research centre, and facilitate the transfer of innovative ideas to market.

Glasgow does indeed have a high density of academic spinout companies, with 7% (31) of its high-growth companies born from academic research—compared with just 3% across the UK. This includes Mironid, a University of Strathclyde spinout that develops drugs to alter the activity of cell signalling enzymes, with a focus on treatments for degenerative kidney diseases, chronic inflammatory diseases and cancer. Backed by Scottish Enterprise, Epidarex Capital and Sofinnova partners, the company has raised £13.5m of investment across seven funding rounds. 

Birmingham

Birmingham is the sixth most populous city for high-growth companies in the UK, home to 429, which collectively employ around 32k people. Just under a third of these companies (137) operate in a tech sector, employing 2.9k people. Almost a quarter (24%) of high-growth companies in Birmingham have been founded by women.

Between January 2011 and October 2021, Birmingham-based companies raised 165 rounds of announced investment, worth a combined £365m. By the end of October, a record £94.6m of equity had been funnelled into Birmingham-based companies in 2021, across 18 rounds.

Although the number of deals being announced is lower in Birmingham than other cities on this list, the value of investments is competitive, with an average round size of £2.21m, compared with £1.3m in Glasgow.

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Top companies in Birmingham

Birmingham is a hotspot for business and professional services, such as leading B2B business data provider Market Location. The growth-stage company has raised a single round of funding worth £42m, provided by American fund Pricoa Private Capital, which closed in 2017. Later that year, the company (then trading as 118 Group) acquired Cardwell Marketing and Intelligent Data Group. 

Other top companies in the area include Boomin, a price comparison site for properties to rent and buy, which has raised £38.8m over two rounds, and sustainable plastic manufacturer Aquapak, which has raised £36.2m across three rounds.

Top investors in Birmingham

Regional-focused fund Mercia Fund Managers is the most prolific investor in Birmingham, having backed at least 13 companies and 63 fundraisings in the city since 2011. This includes survey app Voxpopme, and EYOTO, a spinout from Aston University which develops software for optometrists to help with diagnoses, clinical trials and selling products. 

Based in the University of Warwick science park, Minerva Business Angel Network is the second most active investor in Birmingham, having backed 6 companies in Birmingham, across 23 fundraisings. 

Minerva operates a network of 10 angel investment groups, across the Midlands, London and the North West, with collaborations with the universities of Aston, Birmingham, Loughborough, Nottingham, Nottingham Trent, John Moores and Warwick Business School.

Innovation in Birmingham

The local innovation network in and around Birmingham has supplied the city with 25 active and private spinout companies, including CyberOwl, a digital security startup that spun-out from Coventry University in 2016 and has since gone on to raise £5.13m across six funding rounds.

Cardiff

The centre of the Welsh startup scene, Cardiff is home to 370 high-growth companies, collectively employing around 10.3k people. 30% of these companies are operating in a tech sector, employing 1.6k people. Like its neighbour across the Severn Estuary, 28% of the high-growth companies in Cardiff have a female founder, compared with 20% across Wales as a whole.

Between January 2011 and October 2021, businesses in Cardiff have secured 226 fundraisings worth £224m, at a relatively low average deal size of £991k (compared with £2.21m in Birmingham).

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Top companies in Cardiff

Whilst Wales is still to create its first unicorn, there are plenty of venture-backed companies that have potential, many of which have been supported by the Development Bank of Wales. All in all, the fund manager has backed almost 60 companies across more than 130 funding rounds in Cardiff since 2011. It has deployed this capital via its Technology Venture Investments and Start Up and Early Stage Capital funds. The next most active investor in the city is IP Group, which has backed five companies across 10 rounds. 

The best-funded private company in Cardiff is CSC (also trading as Compound Semiconductor Centre), which has secured £53.4m across three rounds. The centre helps to develop and commercialise semiconductor material technologies, with cutting-edge facilities for products and skills development, and was spun-out from Cardiff University in 2014. Its largest equity raise, which took place in 2015 and totalled £51.4m, contributed to the distinct spike in investment activity that year. As well as equity investment, CSC has also benefited from securing 16 grants, worth a combined £4.19m. 

MyPinPad follows in second with £28.5m of equity secured across six rounds. The tech company allows consumers to securely enter their pin codes on unsecured devices, such as mobiles and laptops, when conducting transactions online.

Top investors in Cardiff

The most frequent investor into Cardiff is by far and away the Development Bank of Wales. In our recent Investing in Wales report, produced in collaboration with them, we examined the investing landscape across Wales, and took a deep dive into the top company cohorts across the region. We found that “Cardiff and Swansea have firmly established themselves as two of the most exciting and dynamic tech clusters in the UK.”

Innovation in Cardiff

Cardiff has a spinout population of 11 companies, representing 3% of high-growth companies in the city—on par with the national average. Six of those 11 companies were spun-out from the University of Cardiff. 

One such company is Alesi Surgical (formerly known as Asalus Medical Instruments), which develops medical devices, including one that eliminates smoke and steam particles during laparoscopic surgery and another that moves tissue through suction during surgery. The business spun-out from Cardiff University in 2010, and has gone on to secured nine rounds of equity investment totalling £20.2m. The most recent of these took place in July 2021, for the purpose of funding further growth to support its commercial and R&D efforts, and to launch a new product. The £9.40m round included participation from Norgine Ventures, along with follow-on investment from Earlybird, IP Group and Panakes Partners.

Belfast

According to our data, there are 290 active, high-growth companies in Belfast, collectively employing 11.6k people. 152 of these companies operate in a tech sector, and employ 1.8k people. Belfast has a high proportion of female entrepreneurs, with 35% of high-growth businesses founded by a woman. These businesses are far less likely to secure equity funding, however, with just 25% of firms that have raised equity in Belfast being female-founded.

Companies in Northern Ireland have secured a relatively low volume and value of equity investments over the past decade, announcing just 147 worth £141m between January 2011 and October 2021. But £35.4m of this total has been invested in 2021, across 21 rounds, putting the city on course for a record breaking year in terms of both the volume and value of equity fundraisings.

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Top companies in Belfast

The top equity-backed company in Northern Ireland is currently B-Secur, which has raised £19.3m across six rounds. B-Secur has developed new technology which allows the reading of individuals’ heartbeat patterns through their fingerprints, enabling the verification of their identity. The cyber security company is backed by Accelerated Digital Venture, Invest Northern Ireland (via its Co-FoundNI fund), Kernel Capital, Clarendon Fund Managers, First Capital Ventures and Wharton Asset Management. Along with equity investment, B-Secur has also received grant funding worth £210k from Investing in R&D, managed by Invest Northern Ireland. 

Another well-funded startup in Belfast is Cloudsmith, which builds pipeline management software for developers. The company has raised £13.2m across three funding rounds, the latest of which (worth £11m) took place in September 2021, and included participation from Amaranthine, MMC Ventures, Sorenson Capital Partners, Techstart Ventures and Tiger Global Management.

Top investors in Belfast

Investments in Belfast have predominantly been backed by Invest Northern Ireland, Northern Ireland’s regional economic development agency (31 fundraisings into 29 companies since 2012), and Techstart Ventures, a VC fund that invests across Scotland and Northern Ireland (at least 34 fundraisings across 25 companies since 2014).

Innovation in Belfast

Belfast has a strong population of innovative startups and scaleups, with 33 spinouts calling the city home. Much of this can be attributed to Queen’s University Belfast’s QUBIS, which turns academic work into commercial innovation. The Start-Up Service offers a step-by-step approach to creating successful businesses, assisting with idea generation, innovation and the technical development of ideas. From there, QUBIS offers support with building the team, product validation and customer discovery, and with securing funding to scale-up. 

28 of Belfast’s 33 active spinout companies have been spun-out from Queen’s University Belfast, including Datactics, which develops data cleaning and matching software for the financial sector. Since spinning-out in 2002, the company has secured £7.82m worth of equity investment across 12 rounds, with backing from Invest NI, Par Equity, Kernel Capital, and Clarendon Fund Managers.

Fellow QUB spinout Phion Therapeutics has secured £4.76m in a single round of investment, which took place in June 2021. The seed-stage company develops a formulation that can be used to increase the efficiency of drug development through the use of peptides which speed up the process.

Brighton

Nowadays, the seaside town of Brighton is known for far more than just sand and seagulls, with 306 high-growth companies headquartered in Brighton and Hove, collectively employing 10.6k people. 88 of these companies are operating in the tech sector, employing around 1.8k people. Brighton has one of the highest proportions of female-founded businesses in the country, at 39%, while 27% of high-growth companies in the area have an all-female founding team.

Companies in Brighton have announced 76 fundraisings since 2011, worth £181m, with £84.9m in 2021 (January to October) alone. This uptick in the amount invested can largely be attributed to Skerritts Consultants £55m raise in March, and female-founded MPB’s £24.5m round in April.

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Top companies in Brighton

Founded by Matthew Barker and Kat Mitchell in 2011, MPB has raised a total of £40.6m of investment for its online marketplace, which enables users to buy and sell second-hand photo and video equipment, along with purchasing MPB own-brand products. Backed by Beringea, FJ Labs, Mobeus, Vitruvian Partners and Acton Capital Partners, MPB is the best-funded female-founded business in Brighton.

Top investors in Brighton

Unlike most cities on this list, the top investors into Brighton aren’t venture capital or government-backed funds, but crowdfunding platforms. Crowdcube tops the list with 12 rounds into 9 companies, followed by rival platform Seedrs, with 10 rounds into 7 companies since 2011.

Innovation in Brighton

With most high-growth businesses in Brighton operating in business and professional services, including 37 businesses providing marketing services specifically, there are few deep technology businesses in the area. Just 4 spinout companies call Brighton home, including Universal Quantum, which spun-out from the University of Sussex in 2018. The seed-stage quantum startup has raised £3.6m in a single round, backed by 7Percent, Hoxton Ventures, and Outsized Ventures.

Cambridge

One of the key centres for innovation in the UK, the city of Cambridge is currently nurturing 290 high-growth companies, collectively employing 4.1k people. For those familiar with the Cambridge ecosystem, this may seem like a rather small number. Rest assured, there are a further 462 high-growth companies in the wider county of Cambridgeshire—including unicorn company CMR Surgical—which also benefit from the many business and innovation perks the city has to offer. 

A huge 79% (228) of companies in Cambridge are operating in the tech sector, employing 3.3k, and 28% of high-growth businesses in Cambridge have a female founder.

A hotspot for venture capitalists and angel investors looking for the next big thing in deeptech, companies based in Cambridge have secured 261 equity fundraisings worth £753m since 2011. The peak of activity took place in 2019 and 2020, with 33 fundraisings worth £152m in 2019 and 49 worth £126m in 2020.

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Top companies in Cambridge

The best-funded private company in Cambridge is currently Five, a growth-stage company developing artificial intelligence software to be used in autonomous vehicles. Five has raised four rounds of equity finance, totalling £68m, as well as a £9.95m Manufacturing, Materials and Mobility grant from Innovate UK in 2017.

Following closely behind is Healx, with £53.3m raised over four rounds. The company, which develops software to find potential treatments for rare diseases by matching them to existing compounds, is backed by Amadeus Capital Partners, Atomico, Balderton Capital, Intel Capital, and Cambridge Angels, among others. Healx suffered long delays to many of its projects and clinical trials during the coronavirus pandemic, with its outsourced lab testing hit particularly badly, according to co-founder and CEO Tim Guilliams. But it also accelerated its tech-enabled clinical trials, including remote monitoring of patients via wearables.

Top investors in Cambridge

The most active investor in Cambridge’s startup ecosystem is technology-focused VC firm Parkwalk Advisors. The fund manager provides growth funding to innovative companies emerging out of universities and research institutions, and has backed 25 companies across 43 fundraisings in Cambridge. This has predominantly been through its University of Cambridge Enterprise Fund, but also through its Parkwalk Opportunities EIS Fund and Parkwalk UK Tech Fund. 

Cambridge’s second most active investor was born and raised in the city itself. Cambridge Angels, which has backed 23 companies in Cambridge across 39 rounds since 2011, is an angel network of more than 60 high-net-worth individuals interested in pioneering new technologies. As well as looking for locally-grown businesses, the network is open to investing in companies across the UK.

Innovation in Cambridge

The centre of Cambridge’s innovation ecosystem is, of course, its world-class university. Of the 57 active spinouts that call Cambridge home, 46 have come from the University of Cambridge, which has a long history of fostering entrepreneurship. This includes Cambridge Mechatronics, which has raised £34.3m of funding for its mobile phone and consumer electronics solutions, and Wren Therapeutics, which has raised £33.4m to develop drugs for diseases that occur as a result of protein mis-folding. 

Cambridge spinouts benefit from the support of Cambridge Enterprise, the commercialisation arm of the university. The team offers advice and help with the protection, development and licensing of new ideas and technologies, plus company creation and seed funding. Indeed, the body has its own capital to deploy via the University of Cambridge Seed Funds. Since 2011, the funds have backed at least 34 fundraisings into 17 companies in the city of Cambridge local authority, and over 110 fundraisings into spinouts beyond the city centre.

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