The essential guide to starting a business in Nottingham

If you've ever thought of starting a business in Nottingham but weren't quite sure, we'll show you the pros and cons of life in the city.

Unless you live there already, Nottingham may not be on your list of possible cities for starting a business.

It’s the land of Robin Hood, Sherwood Forest and two football grounds which are unreasonably close together.

But Nottingham is also a rapidly growing city business-wise. It has two universities – Nottingham Trent and the University of Nottingham – that have a real focus on employability. The universities are now working together to provide a strong talent pool through the Universities for Nottingham initiative.

Laurie Hannant, partner at BDO LLP in the East Midlands, said:

“Nottinghamshire has a history of innovation that has yielded inventions as diverse as ibuprofen, the magnetic resonance imaging scanner, HP sauce and traffic lights.

“The region is incubating and nurturing its start-ups and scale-ups well with programmes and initiatives being run out of the universities.

“A recent report we conducted in Nottingham found that companies within the retail and wholesale sector are growing the fastest. Businesses within the manufacturing and industrial sectors are also faring well, growing at an average of 22pc over the past three years.”

If you’re relocating it’s a different matter, so let’s explore the essential lifestyle factors of residing in Nottingham.


ONS mid-year estimates for 2018 indicate that Nottingham’s resident population is 331,100, up by 1,860 since 2017. The majority are working age (16-64) at 230,700, with a significant number of people aged 0-17 (68,700) and university students (43,300, or about one in eight of the population). What’s more, half of the population are under 30. In terms of gender, there are more males than females by quite a significant margin at 168,100 and 162,900 respectively.

Unfortunately, it has a high population churn, with 31,020 arriving and 32,850 leaving. Almost 35pc of children and 25.8pc of people aged 60+ are affected by income deprivation. Rates of car ownership are also low which could put you at a disadvantage if you’re based on the outskirts – a significant two in five don’t have access to a car.

Crime rate

In the year ending December 2018, Nottingham had a rate of 132.26 recorded crimes per 1,000 population. Police figures show that this is about average compared with similar cities including Norwich (126.05) and Newcastle upon Tyne (146.30). Manchester is the worst of this group at 172.77 crimes per 1,000 population. Crime rates have increased across Nottingham since 2015.

House prices

Rightmove says that the overall average house price in Nottingham is £200,958, up 4pc on 2017.


The Scarborough Tourism Economic Activity Monitor (STEAM) says that the number of visitors to Nottingham and the county increased by 1.3pc to 35.89 million in 2017, up from 35.42 million in 2016. The value of tourism also went up 3.6pc from £1.814bn compared to £1.751bn in the previous year.

Transport links

Nottingham is well-connected, with plenty of links around the city and to neighbouring communities such as Mansfield, Newark, Retford, Southwell and Worksop.

Alternatively, you can hop on a tram. The Nottingham Express Transit (NET) is an easy way to get to shopping and leisure facilities as well as travelling between tourist attractions. You’ve got five stops in the city centre and the service itself stretches out as far as Hucknall and Clifton.

The city is serviced by:

  • East Midlands Trains (Worksop)
  • Cross Country Trains (towns within Nottinghamshire)
  • Northern Rail (direct services to Nottingham from Sheffield, Leeds, Barnsley and Chesterfield)

Buses operate from Nottingham’s Broad Marsh and Victoria bus station with buses provided by Nottingham City Transport. If you’d prefer, you can grab a taxi outside Nottingham Station going into Victoria Centre and next to the Old Market Square.

Nottingham City Airport sadly doesn’t offer commercial flights. Your nearest is East Midlands Airport which is 15 mins between Nottingham and Long Eaton by train. The Skylink bus is another option which can take you to popular destinations around the area. For those who want to take their own wheels, it’s 25 mins by car.

Flights mostly go to European destinations such as Antalya (Turkey), Dublin and Malta. You can also go to New York, Montego Bay (Jamaica), Hurghada (Egypt) and more.

SME funding

The D2N2 Growth Hub offers support in the form of recruiting and training, financial grants, networking and business growth. It’s aimed at businesses who are both starting and growing and includes a free business health check. Get in touch with them to find out more about local access to finance, apprenticeship grants and info on national grants.

Nottinghamshire County Council runs the Digital Growth Programme Grant Scheme as part of the D2N2 Digital Growth Programme. Its aim is to support growing businesses to explore and introduce new and emerging ICT products or services into their businesses to improve competitiveness, productivity and to reap commercial opportunities.

If those aren’t for you, check out the NBV Grant for Enterprise which supplies grants between £1000 and £2500. Funding is for the growth and development of existing micro, small and medium-sized businesses based in Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire, Leicestershire and Greater Lincolnshire that are currently trading. The grant can be used for business or consultancy services.

First Enterprise works with businesses in the East Midlands area, providing business loans between £500 and £150,000 as well as business advice and training.

Nottingham Trent University has lent to 800+ SMEs in the last three years. They provide two sets of funding – one for SMEs in Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire and one for SMEs nationwide. As you can guess, these schemes are open to graduates.

The nationwide scheme is provided by Santander and is a part-funded SME internship programme which allows access to a £1,000 grant when recruiting an NTU candidate. The grant will part-fund their salary for a six-week period. The Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire offering is a £1,000 grant to part-fund a graduate’s salary for a six-week period.

NTU offers a Knowledge Transfer Partnership as well – read our guide to find out more about Knowledge Transfer Partnerships.

What the entrepreneurs think about starting a business in Nottingham

We could reel off stats all we like, but it’s probably more helpful for you to hear from the people who have launched businesses in the city.

Patrick Tonks, owner and creative director of Great Bean Bags, explains how Nottingham is an ideal home for the textile industry.

Patrick started Great Bean Bags in Nottingham after manufacturing other products
Nottingham was already home to an existing textile facility of ours that predominantly manufactured aircraft seats and hospital mattresses. In 2005 the idea of manufacturing bean bags came up (during a Friday afternoon post-work beer!), Great Bean Bags was created and we haven’t looked back since.

It’s been an amazing journey so far and we couldn’t imagine being anywhere else but Nottingham.

Opportunities and challenges
Textile manufacturing has long had a headwind in the UK, so the challenge has always been there. Competition from cheaper overseas suppliers has always been the main challenge which we have combated the only way we can; by having original and innovative designs, good quality raw materials and excellent customer service. In short, not competing in the ‘race to the bottom’ and focusing on what we do best.

Nottingham is a centre for textiles dating back to the lace trade in the 1800s, so there’s plenty of talent. It continues to be a hub for textiles and the city is still a rich pool of people who know a thing or two about sewing. More people are coming through the schools, colleges and universities too, all keen to get into the textiles industry.

Open to everyone
To put it simply, Nottingham is fantastic. It’s a vibrant city, plus it has great shopping and brilliant nightlife. There are opportunities here to pursue different trades and disciplines and it is welcoming to all that want to give it a go. And of course, it is the UNESCO City of Literature, which is quite the accolade.

Emerging sectors
Nottingham has developed its creative quarter recently; it’s an initiative aimed at developing creative and digital start-ups. It has enjoyed great success, nurturing small businesses and offering support where needed, while developing creatives in the area and allowing them the outlet to try something new.

I’d tell any entrepreneur who wants to launch in Nottingham to go for it. If you fail, and there’s a chance you will because there are always hurdles to jump over, it’s OK because you’ve learned to pick yourself up and go for it again, armed with your new-found knowledge. Take this and repeat – it will all be worthwhile.

Wayne Oakes and Raj Somal opened the first office of their civil and structural engineering consultancy, Dice, earlier in 2019.

Raj and Wayne started Dice in Nottingham last year

Both Raj and I have a strong connection with Nottingham – I was born here and Raj went to university here.

Despite not being the UK’s biggest city, Nottingham has an abundance of consultants, contractors and developers, giving us the ability to build a strong network here.

However, one of the biggest challenges we faced was the initial start-up costs that incurred. It is not simply a case of buying a laptop and a phone. We needed to procure multiple design software licenses, insurance, a website and strong branding. Both Raj and I had to invest money into the business to do this.

A rich history in textiles…

There is certainly a lot of talent in Nottingham and the East Midlands, but our industry is suffering from a skills crisis. The really good candidates are few and far between. As there are multiple consultants in the local area, competition to secure the best candidates is fierce.

Dice has attempted to differentiate itself so that we not only win work, but also attract and retain the best talent.

We have two fantastic universities in the city and we are working on building relationships with them both so we can continue to attract and train apprentices through the business. We’ve identified this as the best way to attract young talent into the industry.

… and growing in other sectors

There is already a strong ecosystem of businesses within the property and construction industry in the city, which is great for Dice.

The creative quarter is Nottingham’s creative business district with an emerging digital scene. Works Social is Nottingham’s newest co-working complex that offers high-quality office space for start-ups like us.

BioCity Nottingham is another big asset to the city as one of the UK’s leading bioscience innovation and incubation centres. Plus, Nottingham Science Park has embarked on a joint venture with MediCity and Boots, offering support and assistance for start-ups and established companies – yet another valuable support system available to local businesses.

To top it off, the council has initiatives such as the N2 Business Growth Fund and Nottingham’s Investment Fund to give small businesses a financial boost.

Living in the city

I’m possibly a little biased but I love Nottingham. We have terrific public transport links, with East Midlands airport on our doorstep: the UK’s busiest pure cargo airport and hub for DHL and UPS. The city is also located right in the centre of the UK which is important for businesses like ours.

The cost of living in Nottingham is also a fraction of what you would expect to pay in larger cities such as Manchester, Birmingham and London, with average house prices significantly lower than the UK average.

‘The cost of living in Nottingham is a fraction of what you would pay in larger cities’

This means that locals have more money to spend enjoying Nottingham’s great food and drink scene, music venues, independent shops and sporting events.

Wise words for entrepreneurs

Firstly, if you are thinking of setting up your own business, our advice is to stop thinking about it and just do it. We know there are a lot of variables to contend with, but all businesses start with an idea and grow from there – you just need to get started!

Nottingham is a great place for entrepreneurs. We found the local business community to be warm and welcoming, and there are several networking groups and growth partners that can help to put your business on the map.

Michael Cooper, founder of Flame Firetables, talks about the beauty of Nottinghamshire and the challenges of finding apprentices in traditional trades.

Michael started his firetable business in Nottingham

Nottingham has a rich entrepreneurial history – just look at Boots, Paul Smith and Raleigh – and it’s also renowned for producing beautiful products such as the famed Nottingham lace. I wanted to add to the next chapter of that artisan legacy with something new, vibrant and glamorous, blending the skilled craftsmanship that Nottingham is known for with some extra sparkle.

It’s also smack-bang in the middle of the UK with great transport links, making it an ideal base for distribution around the country.

The difficulties of running the business

Flame Firetables is the first of its kind in the UK, so I had to import many of the components from the US to begin with. We also identified the luxury market as our key target from the beginning, so having the courage to stay the course and keep to the strategy was tough. That and a lot of experimenting when it came to marketing.

Before I launched Flame Firetables, I was in the building game and over the past five years, there’s certainly been a drop in the number of young people in Nottingham entering the skilled manual labour sector, despite Basford College offering some brilliant construction courses. Although there are more apprentices around, many are more interested in tech-based roles, which is a shame because there are some fantastic opportunities around for those who want to take a more traditional route.

As the business grows, I’d love to take on more young people from the area and help them build a real career from using their hands to create something special.

An eclectic city

There really is something for everyone in Nottingham. It’s a multicultural, welcoming city with a thriving arts and theatre scene. The nightlife and shopping are fantastic, but you also have beautiful countryside if you prefer listening to buzzing bees than the buzz of city life.

And because the location is so central, it’s so easy to get elsewhere in the UK if you fancy a change of scene.

Nottingham is home to two big universities, so the food and drink sector does very well here. Even outside of the city centre, there are more and more micropubs and breweries popping up, which also ties into the increase in sole traders and independent businesses in the area.

The number of brand chains seems to be shrinking, with more boutiques opening in their place, which is great because it means that the money spent goes back directly to Nottingham businesses, boosts the local economy and adds to the diversity on the high street.

There are great opportunities here if you’re starting up because commercial properties have lower rental fees than some of the larger cities. It’s really easy to circumnavigate the city centre to get to suppliers and customers. Everything is very accessible, so you don’t necessarily need to be based right in the city centre.

Undecided? Have a read of our other city guides

The essential guide to starting a business in Oxford

The essential guide to starting a business in Bristol

The essential guide to starting a business in Birmingham

The essential guide to starting a business in Belfast

The essential guide to starting a business in Cardiff

The essential guide to starting a business in Newcastle

The essential guide to starting a business in Leeds

The essential guide to starting a business in Glasgow

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Anna Jordan

Anna is Senior Reporter, covering topics affecting SMEs such as grant funding, managing employees and the day-to-day running of a business.

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