When Black Rock, a video game development studio in Brighton with 144 staff closed down in 2011, former employees formed the Brighton Indie collective, meeting regularly to form smaller businesses out of the ashes.
Four former staff joined forces to start Studio Gobo. Best known for its work on popular Disney Infinity playsets, including Pirates of the Caribbean, it launched a second studio in 2015 and is now partnered with Microsoft Studios.
The number of digital tech businesses in Brighton has grown by 29% since 2011, employing 12,614 people with an average salary of £44,608. 18.5% of Brighton’s digital tech businesses are classified as high growth – more than Cambridge and Oxford. So, what is the secret to its growth?
Many people were originally attracted to Brighton’s seaside location, lifestyle and close proximity to London and Gatwick. The University of Sussex and the University of Brighton also help attract digital entrepreneurs who network, collaborate and provide peer support to each other through membership organisations like Wired Sussex. The city’s Brighton Festival, the largest arts festival in England, and tech events, such as Brighton Digital, which drew 60,000 participants in 2017, also encourage openness and connectivity.
In fact, 74.5% of Brighton’s creative and digital industry firms interviewed believe its digital cluster is important for creating opportunities and collaboration, according to the Brighton Fuse. This two-year project led by the University of Sussex and the University of Brighton and overseen by Wired Sussex and the NCUB analysed the growth of Brighton’s creative and digital cluster and ran pilot schemes to promote innovation.
Brighton’s fusion of technology with the arts is another ingredient to Brighton’s success. ‘Fused’ businesses, which combine creative art and design skills with science and technology expertise, grew faster than their ‘non-fused’ equivalents (18% versus 7% growth) and were more likely to innovate. “It’s got a strong arts and bohemian scene,” said Phil Jones, Managing Director of Wired Sussex. “Bringing that together with a digital scene is what gives Brighton its edge.”
A £170m Greater Brighton City deal, signed in 2014, aimed to drive “tech cluster” growth and said that Brighton Fuse research was critical for highlighting the area’s ‘outstanding performance’ and ‘superfused’ businesses. The independent review behind the £45m Creative Industries Clusters programme, which aims to build collaboration between creative industries and UK universities, also cites the research. The Review’s recommendations feed into the 2017 Industrial Strategy White Paper.
The University of Sussex, a City Deal partner, is helping firms understand and explore the potential of new technologies. For example, entrepreneurs on Brighton’s Digital Catapult Centre’s residency programme will soon visit the University to find out about its haptic technology research. Only conceptualised in 2011, the technology uses ultrasound to stimulate our sense of touch and could fundamentally change the way we interact with technology. Helping firms understand and exploit new technologies like this will be key to maintaining Brighton’s future tech growth.
This article first appeared in the 2018 State of the Relationship report, commissioned by Research England and compiled and published by NCUB.