For any entrepreneur who finds themselves faced with a tricky business decision, they could do worse than ask the question "what would Richard Branson do?". However you can never quite be sure where the answer will take you, as was illustrated at the final leg of the Voom Tour.
The day before the big red bus had arrived in Dundee for its final stop, local entrepreneur Rod Sim submitted an entry to the Voom Tour pitching competition - the winner of which would walk away with £5,000 and the chance to meet the Virgin Group founder.
The problem for Rod was that his application was unsuccessful; he hadn’t made the final six and was therefore unable to pitch. "So I asked myself, what would Richard Branson do?" Explained Rod. "Well the answer was simple, I needed to go get my tank."
Some of you may well recall that when Branson launched Virgin Cola in 1994, he did so in Times Square - in typically understated fashion - by driving a tank through a wall of Coca Cola cans. The image of this would stay with Sim, as not only is he a fellow entrepreneur, he’s a fellow tank driver.
"I thought, in true Richard Branson style, let’s crash the party. There is no better way to get someone’s attention than by bringing a tank," noted Sim, who runs Tank Driving Scotland in Auchterhouse. Most impressively of all, Sim also brought along a 24 pack of Coca Cola cans, which he proceeded to crush in front of onlookers - recreating in full Branson’s exploits in New York.
After his surprise appearance Sim was more than happy to step aside and let the finalists battle it out in the last pitching competition of the tour. As has been the case in each of the tour stops, every entrepreneur produced a very strong pitch with some truly innovative businesses on show. The wide range of industries represented, from virtual reality to the volunteer sector, demonstrated the strength and depth of Dundee start-up ecosystem.
After lengthy negotiations the judges decided that the standout pitch came from young entrepreneur Michael Harkin, whose buoyancy aid invention the Turtle Pack helps children learn to swim by keeping their arms free and body in the correct position.
"It’s amazing to have won the competition - I can’t believe it," admitted Harkin, who had been a last-minute entrant. "I can’t wait to meet Richard Branson, pick his brains and see what benefit he can bring to the business. I thought the judges were really great today, they were very supportive and I’d encourage anyone with a business idea to enter next time around."
Throughout the day many of the city’s budding entrepreneurs had hopped on board the bus to receive free business advice sessions from the likes of London Media, Crowdfunder, Virgin StartUp and JCDecaux. While there were also a number of local success stories on hand to share their tips and reveal how they were able to make it happen. This included Chris van der Kuyl, a highly-successful games industry entrepreneur and Chairman of Entrepreneurial Scotland.
"One of the little known facts about Dundee is that we have more games developers per head of the population than anywhere else in the world," pointed out van der Kuyl. "Grand Theft Auto was started here in this city, as was Lemming’s - a game that was huge in the 90s and then you have games of today like Minecraft being made here."
While Dundee might be smaller in size than many of the other cities the Voom Tour has visited, it certainly punches above its weight. There’s always been a strong entrepreneurial heartbeat in the region, but it’s hard to imagine a time when there’s been more excitement about what the future holds for the entrepreneurs based here.
This topic was at the centre of the debate for the final panel session of the tour, which saw Elaine Cox of Dundee City Council, Kallum Russell of Acorn Enterprise and Su Johnston of Crowdfunder discuss the role that community plays for small businesses. You can read more on this discussion, as well as a full wrap-up of the 2017 Voom Tour, across virgin.com all week.
We’ve also got the final Voom Podcast of series three coming your way on Thursday, which will take a look back across the year to date and offer up more business tips and tricks from some very special guests.