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If it takes a village to raise a person, it takes a community to support a start-up


Now home to a growing number of start-ups, the support of accelerators and wider ecosystem in Manchester is key to entrepreneurial success, writes Rich Jones, Head of Exchange, the tech accelerator based at Department Bonded Warehouse in Enterprise City.

While Manchester enjoys its moment in the spotlight after hosting the Chanel Métiers d’art fashion show, is soon to welcome Soho House’s first outpost in the North of England and has been selected to host the MTV EMA music awards, it is also home to some exciting business successes.

New research from EY suggests that Manchester is set to outpace the UK’s economic growth until 2027. This progress has been credited to its tech sector, where average growth is above the national average. The city is also expected to have the second-fastest employment growth of all UK cities over the same period.

If it takes a village to raise a person, it takes a community to support a start-up. This is the ethos of our tech, media and creative accelerator, Exchange at Department Bonded Warehouse. Therefore, it is important that the community and environment we create is one that can elevate entrepreneurs, and their businesses, on a regional, national and even global level.

You’d have to ask the founders who have come through our doors to answer that, but I’d certainly say so. Exchange has had its fair share of success stories and, to date, has supported over 450 people, creating over 140 jobs, with members raising more than £13m in funding in its three years and six cohorts. Since January 2024, three of the programme’s members have already secured over £1.3m in funding from angels, VCs and through government grants.

In each of our cohorts approximately half of the founders return for an additional six months on the programme where they continue to benefit from the partners, mentor and advisor network and community we have assembled in the heart of the city centre. We’re also in a unique position where many of the alumni on the programme remain within our buildings and return to the programme to share their experiences with the next generation of founders.

Start-up accelerators and incubators are now scattered throughout the region offering varying levels of support. This highlights the importance of differentiation through the programme. An accelerator must offer genuine value to a founder otherwise it can hamper their early progress and growth. More than just a desk space or place for infrequent networking opportunities. This value can be provided in many ways – a tailored programme, the community of people it offers access to, and the opportunities it opens the doors to. Since joining Exchange at the start of the year we have reviewed how we deliver our programme based on feedback from alumni and input from our advisor network.

In my experience, founders get out of an accelerator what they put in, and that’s why we have created so many opportunities for our cohort to engage with the programme as well as the wider network.

We have highlighted six common challenges that founders face, including sales, marketing, their tech stack, and navigating fundraising, and made these the monthly focuses to build specific sessions around. Throughout the four week blocks, we will host workshops from specialist partners on the different subjects, coaching sessions and of course social mixers and opportunities to network in a relaxed environment. This clearer structure provides weekly touchpoints with the founders and mentors and means that no one is alone in their journey. It also provides opportunities for genuine peer-to-peer learning, with founders able to share recent experiences of growing a team, scaling a business and fundraising.

With tech and the broader economy experiencing turbulent times, it has never been more important to support one another, leverage your network and seek support. Through programmes like Exchange, I hope that Manchester continues to outpace the UK economy’s growth and puts itself on the international map as a global tech capital. The region clearly has all the right ingredients for success.

Exchange is set to welcome its seventh cohort of businesses with a new revamped programme.

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