Meeting the start-ups that make Virgin Disruptors tick

It wasn’t just the people on stage at the recent Virgin Disruptors event who were shaking things up. Upstairs, a clutch of exciting start-ups were changing lives - and stomachs - with their wares, thanks to Virgin StartUp.

We're only sorry there isn’t the technology to allow you to taste the statement edible art chocolates from the girls at Empire. So you’ll just have to close your eyes and imagine. Founded by Lois and Michela Wilson in July 2015, the company produces exquisite artistic chocolate pyramids almost too good to eat (almost).

Whether it’s the 23ct gold, Oreo and white chocolate Antionette or the Pollock, hand-painted with drip white chocolate, each piece pays tribute to an artist or cultural happening.

"We both love social media, art and fashion. You can barely sit down and have coffee these days without someone taking a picture," says Lois Wilson. "We both love sweet things. And we thought, ‘When you gorge out why not do it on something gilded?"

The pair, who hand-make all their chocolates, tested them at a few fashion events. "We were so impressed with people’s reactions," says Lois, "You’d see people taking six portions…"

"You start with an idea you’re passionate about and then you get the research to back it up," laughs Lois, "So we now know that the luxury chocolate market is booming. Chocolate is the perfect acquaintance gift."

Watch: The most disruptive ideas from Virgin Disruptors

The company is exiting its pilot stage with a pop-up shop in the offing in Piccadilly Station and they’re also working on a commercial with an independent film company, Michela explains, "We’re stepping out as artistic. It’s edible art. Eat it, frame it, it’s up to you."

Though the chocolate was delicious to look at and eat, for those who needed their five-a-day fix, Bristol-based business Polar Pops stepped in to fill the gap. Founded in January 2015, Polar Pops are dairy-free, lactose-free, vegan, 100 per cent natural lollies. "The only sugar is naturally occurring sugar," explains founder Emily Fletcher, "there’s real fruit and also hidden veg so they’re a treat but with nutritional value." The lollies rock in at just 30 calories and they’re allergen-free. There’s even a green ‘Super Food’ lolly, living up to the company’s healthy motto, "We pick, we squeeze, we freeze".

"The feedback we’re getting is great," says Fletcher, "we launched in September with Ocado, we’ve done a few festivals and we’re speaking to a lot of different people, including ice-cream vans. We’re pretty chuffed with how it’s going."

Four years ago Darcy Ida decided she didn't want to work for anyone else any more. "I thought where do my interests lie? And it was photos and fancy dress." She laughs, "I am the kind of person who takes six weeks to make a fancy dress costume." Four years ago the word ‘selfie’ was just taking off but, she says, "People were taking selfies but didn’t have anywhere to print them.” Ida was working as an actor and presenter, with the inevitable temping in between. She had, she says, 'that lightbulb moment' and registered Ida Pod in July 2012, taking her first booking six months later. She’s now got three units, eight staff and two vans "and no debt".

The pods are a cut above your average photo-booth with professional lighting and comfortable seats for three to four people. The booths can be rented to clients for up to eight hours for parties, corporate events, weddings and even funerals (yes, really), where people can leave well wishes and messages in a private space.

Four years, says Ida, "I am working hard on customer relations so that it’s not a photobooth just turning up. It’s the little details. I wouldn’t send an older person to a kids party, I might send someone who wants to work with children." Her expansion plans are big and she’s currently looking for investment to bring the ideas into schools to create a digital yearbook. "We want to go in and get the last year of kids before they go up to big school and have their brains polluted by social media. We want to ask them where they see themselves in ten years’ time, what their hopes and dreams are. Imagine if Richard Branson had been able to do that…"

If you joined us in London and would like to share your highlights and how you've been inspired to make a change in your world, drop us an email on with the subject Virgin Disruptors 2016.

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