They weren’t joking when they said the aptly named Platform was next to Leeds Railway Station. The building literally forms part of the city’s mainline rail station and if you like train-spotting then this is the place for you.
It’s also the place for you if you’re a tech start-up looking for stylish co-working space, a city centre location, easy access to London and a readymade community of like-minded entrepreneurs.
Bruntwood’s Platform building has just celebrated its first anniversary and is already 95 per cent let or under offer. The UK’s largest regional property developer and operator secured a £2m funding award from Leeds City Council to open the tech incubator, targeting digital start-up companies and tech entrepreneurs.
The hub is operated in close partnership with the city council and will support more than 1,000 new jobs over the lifetime of the project. What’s the secret of its success? More about that later, but the key is understanding the hurdles that the property company had to overcome to bring the building to market in the first place.
Craig Burrow (pictured below) is Bruntwood’s director of Leeds and was recruited by the company as long ago as 2007 to increase their footprint in the city. The timing couldn’t have been worse because of the global recession in 2008 which devastated the property sector.
Bruntwood, which is 40 years old and has a portfolio of 117 properties across four UK cities, stuck it out and Platform is its fifth building in Leeds.
Built in the 1960s it used to be called City House when Kenmore Capital outbid Bruntwood to buy it for around £14.5m. One recession later Bruntwood bought the building out of recession in 2010 for, what seemed, like a bargain £2.5m.
The building had been completely empty for all of that time and because of its close proximity to the railway station, Network Rail had to be consulted at every turn.
It meant workmen didn’t get on-site until October 2015 and the refurbishment costs were £18m – more than the cost of a new-build! Then the contractors went into administration halfway through the project so Bruntwood re-employed a number of key staff to minimise delays.
Platform eventually opened a year ago. The paperwork for the building was completed at 4pm and the guests for the first event began arriving within one hour!
Spread across three floors, the tech incubator is at the heart of Platform. Burrow explained: “We’ve seen a significant rise in the number of tech and digital businesses taking space and growing within the city,” he said. “That was the focus for this building before we applied for the tech hub funding which was in the control of Leeds City Council.
“Our pitch in respect of that funding was to create a space which allowed each stage of the journey, everything from very early start-up through different types of space – hot-desking, dedicated desking, co-working – through to that next stage where you’re growing from the two-person to a 12-person business and then beyond that.
“It’s a 10-plus-year project and there will be additional space created throughout the building to provide grow-on for those businesses coming through.”
There are already 70 businesses in the incubator, including exciting start-ups like Digibete, Synap and Hero Wellbeing.
“We’re seeing a number of businesses coming through this building now which wouldn’t necessarily picture themselves in this building, but because the incubator is here and because of the additional services which we are looking to offer, it is a good first stage of the journey.”
In addition law firm Shoosmiths has two floors within Platform while award-winning tech-centric law firm, rradar, chose Platform for its Leeds base.
Bruntwood has created the role of a community engagement manager for Platform to work with customers. Wendy Denman is already organising four events each week for Bruntwood customers and predicts in the next year she will be involved in as many as 250, both on site and around Leeds.
Kirstie Shapley (pictured below) is the partnership and programmes manager in the tech incubator and is responsible for the curation of the business support programme offered to Platform’s customers.
“A big part of my role is making sure the businesses are happy within Platform, helping support them with connections, looking out for events which can support the growth and development of their businesses,” she said.
“There’s been rapid growth within Platform. Before I started here the co-working area was not actually open. You tend to get businesses with one to four people based in there. It is aimed specifically at tech start-ups. They are looking for support and growth alongside their business objectives.
“We offer a range of business support events that will run, from help with investment to help with financial side, support on mentorship, with HR/talent, legal issues… a range of what we believe will support our customers’ growth.”
Shapley said the success of Platform and the tech incubator reflects the city’s burgeoning tech sector.
“We’re 2 hours 15 minutes from London on the train,” she said. “Location has been a huge factor in the success of Platform. We are pushing the message that you don’t have to be in London to be a start-up – we’ve got support in Leeds and connections with other tech hubs. There are other tech companies in Leeds that can collaborate and work together.”