After his experience of building a successful business in the UK and then Silicon Valley, start-up veteran Brian Donnelly explains the motivation behind leaving California and choosing Birmingham as the location for Synapse.
“What’s great about Silicon Valley is the concentration of investors, software engineers and commercial savvy. “What’s not great is that there are few available customers; east Coast prospects are 3,000 miles away. By comparison, Birmingham has hundreds of major corporates, great software engineers and access to unrivalled grant funding opportunities.”
With Birmingham being widely regarded as the national capital for engineering, it is the ideal location for small and large businesses alike to source talent. HS2 is due to take on 1,500 new employees, largely engineers and designers responsible for the detailed construction of the tracks and stations. Synapse has now sourced its entire team of 30-plus from local pools of talent, seeing its entire future stemming from a solid HQ base in Birmingham. All of this at a tenth of the cost of Silicon Valley.
Another big difference working in Birmingham is the networking community. A lot of key players on the Birmingham business scene know each other, making it easy to reach out to influencers, decision makers and big business.
Tineke Booth, chartered accountant and finance and operations manager at Synapse, says, “It’s a refreshing way to do business, with a huge portion of our current client base originating from recommendations and networking.” This aspect of growing a start-up business is in stark contrast to London, where virtually everyone faces a commute of an hour or more, meaning there’s no sense of a focal hub. In Birmingham it’s all about networking and letting existing clients spread the word about how Synapse is benefiting them.
Synapse is a business solution provider with an innovative alternative to commercial off-the-shelf It applications. Essentially, they have a clever way to dramatically improve spreadsheet function. By connecting the business users’ desktop spreadsheets directly to the Synapse Cloud Server, multiple users can add data to their local spreadsheets and changes are synchronised with every other user’s spreadsheet, producing one clean version of data shared by everyone. Synapse delivers all of the benefits of spreadsheets whilst eliminating the disadvantages.
Brian Donnelly and his team of veterans returned to Birmingham to take advantage of the many benefits the city offers to a new business With its burgeoning infrastructure in the form of HS2, Birmingham Airport’s newest runway and tramlines in construction around the city centre, it’s clear why Birmingham has been named the UK’s start-up hotspot for the second year running, attracting an increasing amount of international attention, playing host to 77 foreign investment projects last year alone. Accompanying its increasing connectivity to the rest of the UK and further afield, Birmingham’s cultural scene is rivalling London’s. With five Michelin-star restaurants, a world-class ballet and orchestra and, most recently, the largest regional library in Europe, Birmingham is a city with an increasing variety of lures. “A significant aspect which contributed to settling in Birmingham was finding the Innovation Birmingham Campus,” said Brian.
Innovation Birmingham Campus, headed by David Hardman, is a purpose-built facility for new start-up businesses in the city. After seeing the set-up, Synapse moved in the following week. Innovation Birmingham Campus was ideal for many reasons. “We got great office space and infrastructure, minimal commuting, based in a prime location, connected to both the city centre and the University of Aston,” said Brian. Each office at the Innovation Birmingham Campus is specifically designed to suit the needs of each company, whether that be with a boardroom, meeting space, SMArt boards, or even a ping-pong table. The campus aims to facilitate its start-ups in creating the ideal working environment from which to build their base. The Synapse office recently expanded into twice the space, due to the continuing growth of the business.
“The team at Innovation Birmingham were quick to respond to our developing requirements as a fast expanding company,” said Tineke. Within a few days, plans had been drawn up to restructure the adjoining offices into one large working space, suitable for up to 40 people. “The atmosphere at the Innovation Birmingham Campus is fantastic,” she said. “There’s a great sense of community, companies often collaborate with one another and the support network is beneficial for a young business.” With the ideal location identified and an innovative solution for improving the efficiency of the traditional spreadsheet using cloud technology, the platform for Synapse growth was in place. The next steps: to raise money, build the engineering team and find the first customers, one of the earliest to be a bank which shares a history of roots in Birmingham.
Published in: The Birmingham Post, 24th September 2015