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SME Guide: The Best Places in the UK and Mena to Start a Small Business

In this Marketing Report:

Thinking of starting your own business? Throughout the EU, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) represent 99% of all businesses out there. Discover the best UK and MENA places to begin your entrepreneur adventure and start a business with this study of UK and MENA cities. 

We analysed factors such as broadband speed, public transport, population qualifications, office and electric costs, and happiness. This report highlights some of the best advice for those seeking to start their own business. This Sortlist SME guide shares everything you need to know to help you put your best foot forward in the business world, be it in the UK or abroad.


Number of new businesses created every hour in the UK


Amount raised by MENA start-ups in June 22 only


In the EU SMEs represent 99% of all businesses

The Top UK Cities for Start-Ups

During the first half of 2021, it was revealed that almost 80 new businesses were created every hour in the UK. As economies around the world rebound after the COVID-19 pandemic, lots of us are thinking about finally chasing that business idea we have left in our bottom draws for slightly too long. 

But where is the UK is best for start-ups? Ideally, new start-ups will benefit from cheaper outgoings and better access to skilled employees. Analysing the UK’s biggest cities and business hubs, this report reveals the best cities for opening a start-up

Top three best cities in the UK to start a start-up
  1. Edinburgh, Scotland – 6.29/10 start-up score

Scotland’s capital city, Edinburgh, shines as the best city for start-ups in the UK. Edinburgh has the second highest broadband download speed on this list at 115 megabits per second (Mbps). A fast connection is crucial for businesses right now as many transition to hybrid ways of working, meaning workers and customers spend much more time online. Edinburgh also has one of the lowest percentages of unskilled workers, with just 4.2% of Edinburgh’s working-age population without any qualifications. 

  1. Leeds, England – 6.14/10 start-up score

Leeds ranks as the second-best city in the UK for start-ups. Located in Yorkshire, Leeds has one of the lowest electricity costs at 18.2 pence per kilowatt hour (p/kWh). New businesses will love to hear that electricity is cheaper to keep those ever-important early overheads down. Just 6.6% of Leeds’ working-age population is without qualifications, meaning start-ups will have no trouble finding skilled workers to provide their business services

  1. Kingston upon Hull, England – 5.99/10 start-up score

In third place as the best UK for start-ups is Kingston upon Hull. Kingston upon Hull has the fastest recorded broadband on this list at 171 Mbps, one of the lowest office rental costs of £10.49 per square foot, and a low electric cost of 18.2p/kWh. Kingston upon Hull proves to be on the cheaper side for start-ups, however, 11.1% of the working population are without qualifications and there is no major airport nearby to beckon in skilled workers.

Ranking of the best cities in the UK to start a start-up

UK Cities With Growing SME Economies

Put very simply, we can measure the growth of a city’s SME economy by comparing the number of businesses being born and those going out of business. An increase in new SMEs signals a rise in entrepreneurship in these locations. By analysing ONS data on business births and deaths, the cities with growing SME economies have been revealed.

Top three UK cities with growing SME economies
  1. Leicester, England
  • Business Deaths 2020 – 1,635
  • Business Births 2020 – 4,255
  • Net Business Increase – 2,620
  • Active Business 2020 – 16,765
  • % Change – 15.63%

In 2020, Leicester saw 77,045 businesses fail and shut up shop, while almost 90,000 opened their doors for the first time. With a net increase in SMEs of 2,620, Leicester achieved a 15.63% increase in active businesses, signalling the largest rise in entrepreneurship in the UK. 

  1. Brighton, England
  • Business Deaths 2020 – 1,750
  • Business Births 2020 – 3,005
  • Net Business Increase – 1,255
  • Active Business 2020 – 18,780
  • % Change – 6.68%

In Brighton, there was a net increase of 1,255 businesses, leading to the second largest increase in active businesses in the whole of the UK. Almost twice as many businesses were opened in 1,255 over 2020 as businesses which closed for good, suggesting a healthy business environment for start-ups. 

  1. Sunderland, England
  • Business Deaths 2020 – 690
  • Business Births 2020 – 1,090
  • Net Business Increase – 400
  • Active Business 2020 – 6,775
  • % Change – 5.90%

Sunderland is our third largest city of entrepreneurs, despite seeing just 400 net business births over 2020. This 400 increase equates to a 5.9% increase in active businesses in Sunderland. In 2020, 690 businesses closed down in Sunderland, making room for the 1,090 new businesses that were created.  

Top UK cities with growing SME economies

The Top Mena Cities for Start-Ups

The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region is proving a popular choice for new start-ups in 2022. Startups in MENA raised a whopping $323.7 million across 66 deals in June alone this year, with US investors the most active foreign investors. 

Businesses can grow a flourish anywhere in the world. As an entrepreneur, you could consider taking your start-up abroad to benefit from what other countries have to offer in terms of business environments. Here are the best cities in MENA for new start-ups.

Top three MENA cities for start-ups
  1. Riyadh, Saudi Arabia – 7.92/10

Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, proves to be the best MENA city for start-ups. Average broadband speeds of 94.64 Mbps are higher than most, and literacy rates are standing at 95%. Riyadh also has one of the highest happiness ratings in MENA with 6.49/10 and an electricity cost of just 4.2 p/kWh, significantly cheaper than in the UK.  

  1. Dubai, United Arab Emirates – 7.78/10

Dubai has a massive internet download speed of 189.07 Mbps, larger than any city in the UK and MENA on this list. Perfect for hybrid working and working with international clients and employees, fast internet like this is sure to boost efficiency in those crucial early stages of a business. 

  1. Kuwait City, Kuwait – 6.95/10

Kuwait has an exceptional literacy rate of 96% and a very low electricity price of just 2.5 p/kWh. Pairing this with a very decent broadband speed of 149.37 Mbps suggests that Kuwait offers the perfect environment for a budding business, however, the office rent is a little high at £333.66 per month. 

Top MENA cities for start-ups

SME Guidance and Advice

The first step to starting any business is identifying your business idea. This is often easier said than done, but inspiration is around every corner. Maybe you’ve had a budding idea all your life, have seen others start their own business, or feel like you have enough experience in your profession to branch out on your own. Whatever the case, you need to know what business you are starting and be confident that it’s what you want.

Next, writing a business plan to guide you through the first crucial steps of starting your business is key. This includes everything from your business name to your logistics and operations plans. A business plan ensures that you think through things methodically and have a better grasp on what your early priorities are.

Securing funding can also be easier said than done. You could have your own savings, or be expecting personal investments from friends and family. The traditional ways people fund their new business is through business loans and grants from lenders and banks. Start-ups often require large investments. Your business plan will help you keep track of your outgoings.

You will likely also need to hire some employees (depending on the business you’re running). How much work will you need to do yourself and how much you can delegate to others, alongside what skills are required and how many employees you can afford, should be outlined in your business plan. Launching a small business is time-consuming, and if you’re planning on doing all of the work yourself, you will be limited by the time you have available. 

Marketing your business is also key to creating a thriving business, especially in your early stages. Potential customers need to know who you are and what you do, otherwise, they will stay as potential customers and never actually buy from you. Building a brand from scratch is not easy, but super important if you want to stand apart from the competition. When you start, sometimes the best solution is to collaborate with a brand creation agency.

Other nitty-gritty details to know when you set up your start-up include registering for corporation tax, obtaining relevant licenses and permits, opening business bank accounts and organising business insurance. 


UK data sources

MENA data sources

All data retrieved on or before 13/09/22.

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