Croydon is the UK’s fastest growing start up hub. Thinking of heading down here?

Read this first…

Cheap rents, a baby eco-system and great transport links have all made Croydon the UK’s fastest growing start-up hub.

But what’s it really like to work here?

I run a tech start-up (Case Study Ninja) from Croydon, and grew up nearby, so feel well placed to talk through the pros and cons.

Here’s my honest opinion…

Pro: Fantastic community

There is a big, friendly, talented start up community here.

Let’s start with the workspaces. They offer a good spread of prices and cultures so you are likely to find one that suits your business needs:

Exchange at Matthews Yard offer very affordable desk space, with all the handy office standards (photocopier, shredder, printer) and a brilliant 15% off food, drinks and theatre at Matthews Yard.

TMRW are the largest hub. They have gone to the Google school of office design, with coffee stations, large co-working desks and 3D printers. They are committed to helping start-ups thrive, and are lead by an entrepreneur who has been there and done it, Francois Mazoudier. They throw fun parties too.

Sussex Innovation are part of Sussex University. They are situated right next to East Croydon station at 1 Croydon (the ‘50p building’), and offer office space to start-ups with high growth potential.

Case Study Ninja are based at Sussex Innovation because a) I’m too lazy to walk more than 5 minutes from the train station to my desk and b) because they offer a corporate style atmosphere which is in line with our client base.

All of these work spaces offer excellent opportunities for eco-system networking, connecting with other start-ups and support services.

You’ll have no problems finding quality marketing and sales support in the area. If you are hunting for developers, check out the regular Digital Croydon events.

Tying this all together are Croydon Tech City, a grass roots organisation on a mission to offer tech opportunities to local people, and grow Croydon as a desirable place for tech businesses.

They’ve managed to lure speakers from UK government and Silicon Valley down to Croydon.

These achievements are remarkable, especially when you learn that founders Jonny Rose, Nigel Dias and Sarah Luxford are delivering all this on top of their day jobs.

If you’re thinking about dipping your toe in the Croydon water, CTC are an excellent starting point.

Con: Show me the money

If you’re looking for funding through grants or loans, you’ll find plenty of advice and contacts in Croydon.

If you’re looking to schmooze with potential equity investors, you’ll find that the serious opportunities and networking events are still in Central or East London.

The same applies when connecting with Incubators and Accelerators.

This can feel like a drag when you have to take a train and a tube across London at the end of a long day.

A few of the more adventurous types *do* make it out to Croydon. A big shout out to Kipling and Kirby Ventures for being early explorers (and delightful company).

Pros: Customers

OK — so there are plenty of start-up scene antics in Croydon, but what about those important customers?

Croydon has a strong business history. You’ll discover SMEs, corporates and lots of retail here.

The fastest way to tap into this is via business networks like Stirling Business Network and Shaking Hands.

I was surprised at how quickly we got to know people, and how friendly everyone is. There is a real appetite to do business which is good news for B2B start ups.

Cons: The City won’t come to you

If you’re planning meetings with clients based in the West End, City or Canary Wharf, prepare to break out your Oyster card.

It can be difficult to tempt central London clients to Croydon, which is why we held the our launch party in Blackfriars (well that and you can’t beat a view of the Thames).

Still it’s a fast train into Victoria, which brings me to…

Pro: Location, Location, Location

20 minute train East Croydon to Victoria, outer London office costs and outer London wage costs — what’s not to like?

Croydon is a gateway to the South East, with amazing transport links including buses, trams and two train stations.

Plus it’s a short hop to Gatwick airport for when the relentless start up pressure gets too much, and you feel the need to lie on a beach not talking to anyone.

Con: It’s still Croydon

Having lived, worked and played (Blue Orchid!) in and around Croydon for over 20 years, I have no illusions when it comes to Croydon’s reputation.

There have always been problems here, some related to poverty and some simply down to anti-social people.

The 2011 Croydon riots with the infamous arson attack on the House of Reeves furniture store, didn’t do Croydon any favours.

In all honesty, as a woman, I am careful about walking alone at night, and rarely visit West Croydon (unless I’m overcome with a craving for the Dosa Lounge).

I’ve witnessed violent behavior during the daytime, seen people brazenly shop lift in the Centrale centre, and been on the receiving end of some very unwelcome and tedious male comments in the street.

Without being overly dramatic, I would suggest avoiding situations where you might make yourself vulnerable, particularly if you are female.

Pro: Good food and good attitudes

When you start exploring Croydon you discover some nice surprises.

My personal recommendations are The Ship pub , the South Croydon restaurant quarter (another good option for dosa fans), and the Taberner House bee haven.

With Boxpark Croydon opening soon we should see even more tasty food options.

There are lots of smart and interesting people here too, and it’s very supportive and friendly.

Having spent time on both sides of the Atlantic (I’m married to an American techie) I love that Croydon is not trying to ape the USA start up scene or be a carbon copy of hipster Shoreditch.

We’ve got the ambition, talent and drive, and have added our own way of doing things. It’s a lot of fun.

Con: Gentrification

London is a ridiculously expensive capital city, with an exploding population, which means that the process of gentrification is inevitable.

While there are lots of things that gentrification can improve (I refer you to my earlier thoughts on ‘It’s still Croydon’), gentrification can price out existing businesses, leading to people feeling excluded in their own neighbourhood.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out in Croydon.

There is a big opportunity here to get it right, and learn from mistakes made in other parts of London (looking at you Brixton).

I’m pleased to report that there are positive signs.

TMRW hire Croydon staff for their café, Croydon Tech City champion and inspire local technical and business skills, and we have made our own small contribution by hiring Courtney, our wonderful apprentice, from nearby Croydon College.

Building a start-up community in a sustainable way will hopefully bring regeneration benefits to the whole area.

OK — that’s my list of Croydon start-up pros and cons.

South Londoners — you’re usually very vocal. What resonates with you, and what have I missed?