Business Centres around the country are vital to the prosperity of entrepreneurship - a report by the Chartered Institute of Purchasing & Supply found businesses operating from them could reduce their TCO (Total Cost of Occupancy) by up to 50%.
When those centres are located in Essex the benefits can often increase significantly.
The county’s proximity to London – but without the costs of running a business from the capital – coupled with expanding transport links, that already include Stansted and Southend airports as well as ports at London Gateway, Tilbury and Harwich, makes Essex a hugely attractive proposition.
Two such centres figure highly in the work undertaken by INVEST Essex, a specialist business-support agency offering free professional services to existing or start-up businesses in Essex – or those from outside considering relocating to the county – intent on maximising the commercial opportunities of a business location on the doorstep of London and with excellent access to Europe.
The Essex Technology & Innovation Centre (ETIC), in Ongar, is operated and managed by INVEST Essex, specifically designed to support entrepreneurship and small to medium sized enterprises (SMEs).
According to Knight Frank's first ‘Serviced Office Submarkets’ research, released in November 2017, the cost of a single serviced office desk in the West End of London can be as high as £1500 per month. While it is possible to find the equivalent space in one of the Eastern and Northern fringes of central London starting from £450, there is far greater value to be had just around the corner in Essex.
Compare this to four to six-person work spaces available at The Essex Technology and Innovation Centre for between £655 and £822 covering rent, power, lighting, heating and kitchen facilities. Workspaces also come with free on-site parking (which includes spaces for electric car charging) and have easy in and out licences, meaning there is no long-term commitment required.
Centre manager Pam Winter is a firm advocate of the benefits any entrepreneur/start-up would generate from being part of a flourishing community rather than setting out in isolation.
“I operate an ‘open door’ policy,” Winter says, “where the tenants feel comfortable and confident in having an informal chat about their issues, concerns, aspirations and in many cases, are supported and signposted to relevant sources of help within the team.
She continues: “We have many resources available and experts on hand to offer services such as mentoring, finance packages etc. In a Centre like the Essex Technology & Innovation Centre, they work alongside other SMEs in similar situations.”
Although more than 20 businesses currently reside at ETIC, there are further spaces available.
Winter adds: “There is a good blend of business [at ETIC] with a company helping the Catering Industry to ‘vital’ Healthcare products, Live Video Streaming to Finance and Education sectors, Hospitality and Leisure, ICT Services and Finance. An ideal blend for small businesses to connect with each other either conducting business or exchanging business ideas.”
INVEST Essex also supports the M25 Business Centre at Waltham Abbey, a more sizeable building - 55,000 square feet - with just a few vacant areas to go alongside the 70 businesses already in occupancy.
The centre was first conceived in 2013 by managing director Paul Zimbler, who received help from INVEST Essex, then operating as Essex County Council’s inward investment team – including resolving Highways and Local Council issues, as well as ensuring political support at several levels.
Zimbler has seen the centre, and those who occupy it, go from strength to strength.
“We take a view that every business in our centre is an entrepreneur in their own right as they are all SMEs trying to make a success,” Zimbler explains. “When we opened the centre in February 2014 it was a big step for us and was a huge risk and commitment which, with the support of all of our clients and INVEST Essex, has now become a success, so we know how much work and how many sleepless nights are involved in growing any business.
“There is a huge financial advantage to being based out of London,” Zimbler continues. “With rising travel charges and much higher desk rates we are finding more and more companies basing themselves here and taking advantage of the 28-minute journey time from Waltham Cross into Liverpool Street. We have over 130 parking spaces here, making commuting by car an additional cost saving.
Inward investment manager Corinne Hearne is now the liaison between INVEST Essex and the M25 Business Centre, providing ongoing support and interface with the local authority and Essex County Council.
Hearne sees many advantages for a start-up beginning their working life at the Centre.
“The quality of the space against cost means businesses are getting London-quality at a local base,” Hearne asserts. “The support and the community within the Centre makes for a personal approach which is not generally seen at the more generic big brands.
“There is a flexibility in contract terms, with the ability to grow into bigger space or downsize to suit, and it is hard to find any office space with the same level of on-site facilities, offering (currently free) parking, gym access, cafeteria and kitchen facilities, showers etc.”
With the Crossrail train project’s Elizabeth Line – running from Shenfield in Essex through to Reading in Berkshire - set to open at the end of 2018 and the county’s airports at Stansted and Southend introducing new routes all the time, entrepreneurship in Essex looks set for a bright future.
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