The Startup Railcard (& why the UK needs it)

The Startup Railcard (& why the UK needs it)

Originally posted on 13th July 2014

A brief history of the Student Railcard

If you’re based in the UK and a full time or mature student you’re eligible for a Young Persons railcard. For students this is great because 1/3 off rail trips around the country is nothing to be scoffed at, especially as (for the majority) you’re skint and usually living off student loans.

The 16 – 25 Railcard, its official title, was initially introduced in the 1970’s prior to the privatisation of the rail network. Being a government initiative in conjunction with the NUS it was an experiment that worked incredibly well. The perceived benefits to the country were that gaining a university education was a key part of social mobility and an enabler for economic growth. So let’s make it as easy as possible for students to access all parts of the country. Great stuff.

What makes tech startups so special?

Fast forward to today, it’s 2014 and the economic landscape is unrecognisable. Gone are the days when a university education guarantees you a career. Rather you’re more likely to leave university thousands of pounds in debt (at best) with skills that are already 3 years out of date. To top it off there’s a huge STEM skills shortage. Not so great stuff.

Economic drivers have changed, one of the most significant drivers of economic growth in the UK is tech. The data says it all, Joanna Shields in her article states that in London…

“Between 2009 and 2012, 83,000 new technology and digital industry jobs were created, while the number of tech and digital companies has almost doubled from 50,000 to 88,000”

This is by no means a uniquely London phenomenon - it’s a UK wide trend. I’m currently serving as GM of SpaceportX (A startup coworking space in Manchester) and I’m blown away by the talent and buzz in the city. I could list a whole host of cities across the UK where there are startup clusters, but others have done better jobs. A good place to start would be the Tech Britain map.

Access to London and the rest of the UK

London has the greatest concentration of tech startups and indeed this is where the majority of the investors are based. This is also where most, if not all of government resources to encourage startups have been ploughed. So providing that the clichéd treatise of ‘that which is good for London is good for the UK’ is true, then it’s now time to see that in action. Like, right now. This instant – not in 5-10 years ‘trickle down’ to the 'regions’. Startups don’t wait for trickle down – they need a blasting fire hose to the face.

The Startup Railcard

You see, startups and students are more alike than you think; most early stage startups don’t have investment and struggle with cash flow. Yet they are critical to the success of the UK economy. When you think about it, it’s plainly obvious.

We need a startup railcard offering technology startups the freedom of the country. Based in Newcastle? A london based investor has a spare slot that afternoon? It should be a no brainer – jump on a train and be there. At present it’s a cost/benefit decision. A train ticket for peak travel is going to hurt the bank balance. Are the £100’s paid for one founder to attend a meeting in London, that may or may not yield investment, worth it?

Why is this even a thought process? Why are startups around the country at an unfair disadvantage to those in London? Inversely, if a startup in London wants to jump on a 2 hour train to Manchester then why place the barrier of extortionate train tickets in the way?

We’re told time again that HS2 will bring with it mobility for businesses and access to the capital, but at what cost? If the only people able to afford it are those who have already 'made it’ then what’s the point? If fledgling startups are priced out then essentially it’s redundant.

How it should work

If I had my way I’d be in a room with Richard Branson and the PM demanding free travel for eligible startups. But that’s a big ask and a crazy idea. Saying that, Branson is no stranger to crazy ideas so I’m not writing that thought off.

More likely we need a Startup Railcard which isn’t just 1/3 off – it would offer eligible startups standard rail fares that have a maximum cost of £40 (arbitrary value) regardless of distance or peak/ off peak. Simple as that. That’s the ask.

I was encouraged that when I was talking to Gerard Grech, CEO of the London based Tech City during his trip to Manchester he had the same thoughts – the Startup Railcard is a real need. Not a luxury.

What’s an ‘eligible’ startup?

Naturally such an arrangement needs some validation on whether you’re a startup or not. The Student Railcard has the NUS and University network. Startup validation can be done in a number of ways, a few I’ve listed below:

· If you’re listed on Tech Britain

· If you’re listed on AngelList

· If you’re members of an organisation such as TechHub or Central Working

· A member of a trade organisation such as Manchester Digital

· If your startup is participating in one of the many accelerator programmes in the country: Ignite100, Dot Forge, Wayra and Seedcamp but to name a few.

The above are just a few suggestions, no doubt I’ve missed out many more.

Convinced yet?

If you’re interested in collaborating to make this a reality, if you think I’m bonkers or have ideas as to how we can push this forward from a UK wide perspective then please do get in touch via my blog. Alternatively you can hit me up via twitter.

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