Groundbreakers: entrepreneurs on the inside

Holly Branson speaking to people at the Virgin Stars event. It is dark, with two large sparklers shooting from the floor
Image from Owen Billcliffe
Holly Branson
Holly Branson's writing
Published on 22 July 2021

At Virgin, we’ve always believed that empowering people to run with their ideas is one of the best decisions a business can make.

Entrepreneurship is in our DNA, and we strongly encourage our people to pursue passion projects, develop new ideas, and innovate as much as possible within (and beyond) their roles. Dad has always said that your people are your greatest assets in business, and intrapreneurship is a brilliant way to embrace unique skills and create a culture of creativity.

Denzel's
Denzel's

In case you haven’t heard of the term before, an ‘intrepreneur’ is someone who works within a company to develop new ideas, products and projects. Intrapreneurship applies the cores qualities of entrepreneurship – such as innovation, risk-taking, pushing boundaries and scaling ideas – to existing roles and projects within a business. We don’t formally use the term at Virgin, but it turns out we’ve been utilising it all along. In fact, intrapreneurship has been a brilliant way of retaining our entrepreneurial spirit, driving innovation and helping people find their purpose too. It also allows people to explore entrepreneurship without the risks and barriers of starting a business from scratch.

Holly Branson smiling, standing in front of a neon Virgin sign, holding a Virgin By Design book
Image by Kami White

One of my favourite intrapreneurs at Virgin is Karen Sparrow – who has been working with us for over 30 years! Karen joined Virgin Atlantic as a cabin crew member back in 1987 before pursuing her interest in fashion and working on the Virgin Atlantic uniforms designed by Elizabeth Emmanuel. She also contributed her creative expertise to the Virgin Nigeria uniforms and became the Uniforms Project Manager for the collection designed by John Rocha in the millennium re-brand. Almost 20 years later, Karen became Virgin Galactic’s Onboard Experience Manager and helped design Virgin Galactic'a future astronauts spacesuits. Incredible.

Karen Sparrow and Virgin Branson smiling ahead of Virgin Galactic's Unity 22 Space Mission
Karen Sparrow

I’m also really inspired by Heidi Rueff who is the senior designer at Virgin Orbit. Heidi joined the company back in 2017, and helped to build the brand from the ground up. Beyond the day-to-day design work, Heidi has also created her own clothing line at the company, as well as bespoke mission patches. She even paints her own original artwork on Virgin Orbit’s rockets! From day one, Heidi took full advantage of designing without rigid rules, and her work really shows what can be achieved when you give someone the creative freedom and the tools to pursue their passion.

At Virgin, we also really encourage people to embrace the side hustle. Giving up your day job is one of the biggest barriers for entrepreneurs, so we try to offer as much support and flexibility as possible to employees with a side hustle. There’s no shortage of brilliant founders from Virgin companies all over the world, and this is particularly true within the Virgin StartUp team. From Luke Pharoah who is a Virgin StartUp funding manager and the founder of Downtime Cabins; to Ayo Dada who is a Virgin StartUp project manager and the founder of Afroposure; to Joe Kenyon who is Virgin StartUp’s marketing guru and the founder of Goldfish agency; to Ike Cooke who is a funding manager at Virgin StartUp and the co-founder of Mindful Host – it’s brilliant to see the team following their passion for entrepreneurship and finding their personal purpose along the way.

Virgin StartUp team member Ayo Dada wearing running gear, looking into the distance
Image from Leon Csernohlavek

We’ve seen first-hand the benefit of empowering your entrepreneurial-minded employees and creating a start-up culture, and I hope this has inspired you to do the same.