Tue 01 / 06 / 21
The Big Debate, May 2021: Could this be the best time to start or build a business in Brighton?
In May, Brighton Chamber hosted The Big Debate: Could this be the best time to start or build a business in Brighton? Joined by four expert panelists, the event was chaired by Richard Freeman of always possible.
By Jill Woolf of
Over 50 attendees came to the latest Big Debate to contemplate whether this could be the best time to start or build a business in Brighton.
After the traumas, challenges and up and downs of the last year, starting a business might not sound like a good idea. But some Brighton businesspeople are amazingly resilient and capable - the plucky entrepreneurs who have spotted niches in the marketplace and used their imagination and energy constructively.
The Big Debate posed some practical and insightful questions. As well as hearing from four expert speakers on their views and experiences, delegates broke up into break-out sessions for smaller group discussions. There was a Q&A session and a general summary by host Richard Freeman of always possible, who chaired proceedings.
Guest panellists were:
- Jessica Rameau, Partner and Fund Manager, Wellstreet
- Kurt Henderson, Co-Founder, Rassa
- Viktorija Vasiliauskaite, Head of Operations, Roadways
- James Dempster, Co-Founder and MD at Fox&Bear
After acknowledging that Brighton businesses have faced tricky decisions through the pandemic, Richard Freeman said the energy and determination he’d seen has been awe-inspiring. But the path ahead is treacherous. This was the premise for a fascinating and challenging debate.
After a quick hello from sponsors Hartley Fowler, there was a poll to see if attendees felt positive about starting or growing a business in Brighton. 65% said ‘yes’, 30% said they didn’t know, and only 5% said ‘no’. A big thumbs-up for forging ahead regardless!
These are the main points raised by the speakers, along with their top tips:
Jessica Rameau – the investment landscape in Europe
Wellstreet was launched five years ago and has since made a significant impact on the Nordic start-up scene. It plays an important role in turning the ideas of entrepreneurs into working businesses, ready to scale.
- Many investors have switched to conducting their business virtually since the pandemic and will carry on – decisions are definitely still taking place!
- Q1 2020/21 beat records in terms of fund investments in Europe.
- Trends show companies trying to solve problems brought about by the pandemic - ecommerce, digital and consumer healthcare, remote working.
- There has been a rise in value-based companies in Brighton, a city which cares.
- Investors, employees and potential talent want to see authentic start-ups with values at their core. ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) Agenda is high priority for investors.
- Those willing to take risk are those who have fared better from the pandemic.
- Risk must be taken to build a business at scale – it defines you and makes you stand apart.
- The tide is changing towards tech challengers and away from big tech companies.
- Make sure your value proposition is scalable if that’s your goal.
- Anticipate the longer-term outcomes of the pandemic and create your business accordingly.
Kurt Henderson – food and beverage sector
Rassa’s mission is to make cooking, eating and learning about food from all around the world accessible regardless of where you are – while giving professional chefs a platform to share their knowledge, culinary skills and experience.
- So many online food suppliers have flourished through the pandemic through necessity, and restaurants added bookings or deliveries on their websites - plus online cookery classes and experiences which had not been visible online before.
- Businesses slow to adopt online offerings or use social media before COVID were the ones which were slow to adapt to the challenges – 10% of restaurants have closed over the last year.
- There could be another pandemic and there needs to be a shift in mindset to using digital platforms in the food and beverage industry; businesses need to adapt rapidly to keep up, pivot quickly, and attract new customers in different ways.
- There was a massive culture shock through the pandemic where people had the time, space and energy to learn about certain issues and express their views, for example through protests.
- Importance of high street retailers offering good experiences that no online retailers can offer.
Viktorija Vasiliauskaite – ethically-based construction
Roadways is a long-established highways construction and civil engineering company working across the South East.
- There needs to be more visibility of available roles for potential recruits – Roadways experiencing a challenge attracting applicants to two finance roles in Brighton.
- Recommends bringing a fresh pair of eyes and bold ideas to different sectors as a key to being successful.
- Be aware of employees’ mental health – what support will you offer?
- Businesses must have the environment, purpose and value in mind in their decision-making for the future.
- Small businesses can be more flexible and innovative than larger ones, which can only be good for the future and good for Brighton.
- The threshold for being a disruptor in the market has been lowered as we’ve all been so disrupted by the pandemic.
- Businesses should pause after the pandemic to consider how to delight their customers and give the best customer experience.
James Dempster – digital marketing
Fox&Bear is a rebrand of Cobb Digital and Spoken, bringing together expertise in digital marketing, PR, strategy, design, branding and data insight. An award-winning agency for end-to-end storytelling.
- James has just taken a big, bold step to rebrand during the pandemic.
- After taking a significant hit in part of the previous business, he decided to firm up on an existing collaboration to ensure a better and more seamless experience for clients
- Importance of communication.
- Has been surprised that his team has chosen to keep going into the office when offered the option to work from home.
- Retailers are going to have to offer more of an experience in real life v just digital
- Do we know what we want from the next 12 months? It’s ok to say we don’t know what the next 12 months will look like – and we don’t know what our customers want yet.
Delegates then moved into discussion groups to answer the question: Will this pandemic have improved conditions for entrepreneurs in Brighton?
Some said they think the next two years are going to be really buoyant, and it’s the right time to start a business. Although acknowledged that improvement is dependent on sector and people’s approach to risk.
There’s more government money around at the moment for start-ups and scale-ups, however businesses may need to build bigger cash reserves in case of another pandemic. There’s also the need to support, develop and retain people – and take advantage of schemes like Kickstart.
Brighton businesses were good at partnership and collaboration before, but now there are more obvious signs. Shows that community is now central people’s minds - the growing importance of the 3 P’s: people, planet, profit.
Closing with a final summary from Richard Freeman: Could this be the best time to start or build a business in Brighton?
- It depends – on the sector and on people’s attitude to risk.
- There’s never really a good or bad time to start a business regardless of where you’re located – a time of disruption gives more opportunities and people are far more willing to try new things.
- Will innovative new businesses stand the test of time post-pandemic?
- Could this be the end of traditional business? Now seeing more about collaborations and partnerships.
- We haven’t really seen the outcomes of the pandemic yet and we don’t know what’s round the corner.
Jill Woolf is a Chamber Vice-President and Managing Director of leading Strategic PR and Communications Consultancy Chimera Communications.
With thanks also to our event sponsors, Hartley Fowler.
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