What will businesses build next?

Holly Branson and Virgin StartUp CEO Andy Fishburn smiling in a garden
Image from Kami White
Holly Branson
Holly Branson's writing
Published on 14 September 2020

Virgin StartUp’s latest digital MeetUp made for one really insightful evening - exploring what businesses will build next and how COVID-19 will shape the future of business in the long-term.

It was a brilliant discussion in a digital space filled with over 150 like-minded founders and industry leaders. The conversation was led by Ben Keene from Virgin StartUp; the futurist and founder of Futuremade, Tracey Follows; Director of B Corp Certification at B Lab UK, James Ghaffari; and CEO and co-founder of FutureX, Bruce Walker.

As the panel mapped out the business landscape of the next decade, it was fascinating to hear about the trends and challenges that will drive success for small businesses. I was very pleased to see that a strong purpose and a ‘changing business for good’ mentality will be more important than ever before. James from B Lab UK noted that B Corporations are experiencing “an exponential growth in demand as people engage with sustainability as a way of navigating the current crisis”.

Bruce from FutureX also noted: “There’s not a monopoly on the future of business, but what we’re seeing is people prioritising people and planet.”

A group of people in discussion around a table
Image from Virgin StartUp

The panel shared some brilliant tips to help entrepreneurs and businesses of all sizes adapt to a more purpose-driven landscape – which I furiously scribbled down so I could share with you all!

1. Look closely at your supply chain – does it align with your ethical and sustainability efforts every step of the way?

2. Put your people at the centre of your business model. Ask yourself how you would want to be treated. How you would want your mum or your brother to be treated? 

3. Look at the new urban environment – as people spend less time in offices, cities and business districts, what products and experiences do they want and need?

4. Stay on top of big trends and think about what leverage you have. Current big trends according to Tracey are education, sustainability and ageing populations.

5. Don’t make unsubstantiated claims or use confusing language about your sustainability credentials. Keep it as simple and transparent as possible. Better still, work with credible and widely recognised certifiers and consultants – such as B Certification. 

Holly Branson and Virgin StartUp CEO Andy Fishburn smiling in a garden
Image from Kami White

We also discussed some great ways for small businesses and start-ups to get their message out there. Here’s some great advice from the panel:

1. Be true to yourself and communicate authentically. Businesses build loyalty and trust by telling people when things go well, and when things go badly.

2. Governance – change your legal structure and your business model to reflect your values. This will ensure you hold yourself accountable. 

3. Get to know all of your stakeholders (local communities, suppliers, customers, investors etc) so you can build loyalty and transparency; and create partnerships instead of transactions.

4. Don’t be shy about having a profitable model – as we argue for in WEconomy, it’s possible to have both!

5. Always opt for collaboration over competition.

Image by Etienne Gilfillan
Image by Etienne Gilfillan

I left the session feeling so inspired and extra grateful after Toby McCartney gave my book, WEconomy, a big shout-out! I hope you find the tips and advice I picked up really useful, and I would love to hear your thoughts across my social media channels too!

Stay tuned for Virgin StartUp’s future digital MeetUp’s right here.