"We are the start-up capital of the UK but not the scale-up capital..." Claire Mason
Brighton Chamber recently hosted a Big Debate: ‘Are Brighton’s businesses reaching far enough?’ The panel, facilitated by Richard Freeman, CEO of always possible, included Claire Mason, Founder and CEO of Man Bites Dog, John McLean, NED of China Britain Business Council, Eileen Green, Sales and International Trade Manager at Mooncup, Richard Lang, Lecturer at University of Brighton and Ramy Badrie, International student at the University of Brighton.
Over 100 individuals gathered to discuss what we’re doing right, where we’re going wrong, and what businesses should do to ensure Brighton is making waves on a larger scale.
1) We need to focus on the bigger picture
Claire shared a study which showed the problems preventing businesses from reaching further is often customer size (going for smaller clients rather than big global clients). Businesses can and should think more creatively and in-depth about market opportunities open to them. Claire Mason encouraged businesses to ‘think globally from day one’ as our nearest neighbours might not necessarily offer the best client opportunities.
The panel suggested that the city should consider how it’s perceived on a larger scale. Global impact can be achieved by packaging what the city is good at, standing back and reviewing what people say and then shouting about what the city can offer the world.
2) Establishing Brand Brighton
This idea of capitalising off Brighton’s unique spirit was a recurring solution to the question of what Brighton should do to become a global contender in business. ‘Brand Brighton’ kept emerging as an important idea, encapsulating ideas of celebrating our point of difference (ethical, natural and circular was suggested as one area of difference) and collaboration opportunities between businesses and support organisations.
The main takeaway of the facilitated table discussions was a need for more collaboration.
There was a desire to see more collaboration and partnerships between businesses so that they could share knowledge and updates on what they are up to.
Others made the point that Brighton isn’t as diverse as we might like to think. There is a need to look outside of our bubble and look at what’s going on elsewhere, both globally and in the rest of Sussex.
Other suggestions included more collaborations between arts & business – they cited Bristol as an example. Brighton should be more expressive & prouder of our creative, digital & maker communities, and to think bigger.
Education was another hot topic throughout the debate.
Ramy described the two universities here as ‘an untapped resource’ as businesses are not making the most of the number of international students that are attracted to Brighton because of its distinctive brand.
Eileen highlighted the decline in students studying languages, and how this closes the city off to international business opportunities. There was a call to champion life-long learning of language by incentivising people to study them. Language skills in the Mooncup team helped them to sell in Europe in the early days before they were even selling in Boots.
Richard suggested holding an event to connect learners and earners so that business owners can better understand how commerce works in other areas.
5) Export more
The general consensus at the event was that Brighton could do more to establish itself as a national and global contender in business.
It was pointed out by someone in the audience that ‘London and the South East are responsible for 40+% of the UK’s international trade, and that Brighton should have a bigger slice of that.’
Eileen said that exporting can be intimidating for small businesses, who often don’t realise there is help available. Resources such as the Department of International Trade are often underused.
But is it entirely fair to say Brighton’s businesses aren’t doing enough in terms of exporting?
In a recent report, it emerged that Brighton has the 3rd highest level of service exports per head - a service export economy rather than a product. Great news. The panel added that it was hard to track global service exports as they are often paid through UK subsidiaries.
So what can we do to put Brighton on the map when it comes to exporting?
It came all came back to Brand Brighton, and the need to show the rest of the world how much we’re doing here.
John pointed out that the Brighton & Hove Albion Football Club is a brilliant ambassador for Brighton globally, as football is extremely popular in China. He also said that British products, like education, are often associated with that ‘gold standard’ and there’s an expectation of high quality, so you can sell for more.
Other suggestions offered if you grow and want to export, included looking to the banks for opportunities, as they are very interested in growth businesses.
So what’s next?
The Big Debate sponsor, The University of Brighton, are hosting a follow-up event to discuss:
• How can Brighton businesses best place themselves to work within an international market?
• How can we all, under the umbrella of "Brand Brighton" work together to position ourselves as a world-class city to do business?
Thanks to Alice Warren for writing this blog.