Tom Anderson and Jim Scott from Grid Edge talk to Bruntwood about start-ups, business in Birmingham and the importance of a good work/life balance.
While start-ups are the backbone of the UK’s economy, setting up a business isn’t easy. To succeed, SMEs need determination, innovation and good connections.
In recent years, cities located in the Northern Powerhouse - like Leeds, Manchester and Liverpool - have cultivated a ‘start-up culture’, relying heavily on smaller businesses to help them grow. Manchester in particular regularly vocalises how proud it is of its start-ups, and rightly so if recent figures are anything to go by.
Nationwide, Manchester is being noticed for the massive contribution that its tech scene makes to the country. The city is the largest economic force in the North, contributing 28 per cent of gross value added (GVA) to the region, according to Manchester Digital.
However, a culture of technology, start-ups and innovative businesses is also present but not always highlighted in Birmingham. “It just hasn’t been as vocal as some of the other cities on its virtues, whereas places like London and Manchester have done a better job of selling themselves,” explains Tom Anderson, chief executive of Grid Edge, a tech start-up located in Birmingham.
He believes that if you go looking for it, Birmingham has some absolute gems in terms of innovative companies, with a really exciting start-up and technology scene beginning to emerge.
“When you look at the statistics Birmingham more than pulls its weight in terms of the country’s economy, it just doesn’t shout about it in the same way that other cities do.”
Starting up a business
Located in Bruntwood’s Mclaren building, Grid Edge is at the forefront of a smart energy revolution driven by innovations in Big Data, connected technologies and decentralised energy systems. Founded only last year, Grid Edge is a start-up company that has developed Artificial Intelligence (AI) software that enables commercial and public building owners to intelligently control and optimise their building’s energy loads.
“We were working at Aston University and we knew we had developed something special that was generating a lot of commercial interest and decided to take a leap and have a go at it. So we set up Grid Edge as a start-up company” explained Tom.
Since then Grid Edge has moved from strength to strength with some good partnerships already in place and their first customers trialling the software.
“I think for any start-up getting those early customers is the most important thing as it makes it real rather than just an idea. Suddenly you’ve gone from a business plan written on paper to a real business with real money and real customers.”
Along with Aston University, Grid Edge partners with Innovate UK and Set Squared Partnership, and last year the company took home the Best Start Up award at the Silicon Canal Tech awards.
Operating in Birmingham
“In Birmingham, we’ve been able to grow, we’ve been able to get good office space and have really good access to customers. Right now we can do everything we need to do right here,” commented Dr Jim Scott, chief product officer at Grid Edge.
“Like with all start-ups there are times when it is difficult and it has been hard. But Birmingham has loads of great office space and it was really easy to get around and look at a lot of businesses in the city. One of the nice things about Birmingham is that there are lots of different parts of the city - places like Digbeth, the Jewellery Quarter and the city core.”
Jim believes that in Birmingham there is a different culture to other cities. Traditionally the city has been known as the place where companies put their second office, but it’s not like that any more, he argues. “It’s welcoming to start-ups and new businesses, it is an enterprising city and it has history.
“If you’re a young person looking to come to the city, you’ll get good access to an investment community, a technology community of like minded innovators, it’s a great place to come to set up a business.”
What about lifestyle?
When it comes to starting a business, it’s also important to think about how your job and life fit together, like considering how you want to commute and the environment you want to work in.
Tom believes that for young tech entrepreneurs it is about lifestyle as well as the job. “People want to feel like they enjoy their work, that it’s rewarding,” he said. “They will choose quality of work life over the traditional hard-nosed jobs. That’s where commuting, office space and the physical landscape you work in come into consideration.”
It goes way beyond location, explains Jim: “It’s an interesting place to live your life and that’s what you should be thinking about when it comes to starting up a company. It’s a great place to be and it’s become both our homes. The city is on the way up and we want to be a part of that.”
Moving forward, Grid Edge are looking to hire the right staff. “It’s easy to get caught up in the hype and enthusiasm of the early successes but we know that ultimately we need to deliver for our customers. That’s something we can do from being here at Mclaren in Birmingham,” said Tom.
“We’re always looking for new business and new partners and want to grow as fast as we can. The thing that we have is innovation - we’re doing something new that no one else has ever done before. And that’s what makes it exciting, right?”