Manchester has played a big role in our Virgin story over the years. It’s long had a strong music scene and when we started out our Virgin Records shops and Virgin Megastores thrived there. For more than 20 years Virgin Trains has linked Manchester up with London, making it quicker and easier to travel (and do business) than ever before. It’s a city of innovators, entrepreneurs and arts – which makes it the perfect flight partner for Los Angeles.
I love visiting LA. It has a real buzz of disruption, making it the perfect home for some of the newer members of the Virgin family – Virgin Orbit and Virgin Hyperloop. I swung by both of their offices to check in on progress and I left feeling so motivated. They are two companies that really have the power to shape and change the world for the better - by providing a responsive way to launch satellites, and by revolutionising the way we travel. More on this later.
I have always found that doing business can be one big wonderful adventure (if you’re doing it right). Virgin Atlantic is a great example of what business should be – it should be fun, make people feel special and give people a real sense of pride.
We held an event, aptly named Business is an Adventure, bringing together entrepreneurs and wonderful people from Virgin Atlantic to showcase what business should be about.
I was joined on a panel by Cemal Ezel, the founder of Change Please, Tracy Isacke, the head of Corporate Relationships at Silicon Valley Bank, and Bridget Hilton, the founder at LSTN Sound Co. They all have one thing in common – they are all on a mission to have a positive impact on the world.
I was thrilled to hear that Cemal has found a way to make your daily coffee change people’s lives – 100 percent of Change Please’s profits go towards helping reduce homelessness. They train homeless people to become baristas and pay the living wage, and support with housing, bank accounts and mental wellbeing. Cemal received a Virgin StartUp loan to help get his business off the ground, and it’s really wonderful to hear that he has just signed a contract to supply coffee onboard Virgin Atlantic (following on from a successful contract with Virgin Trains). His business is a really positive example of why I wanted to start Virgin StartUp in the first place. I knew there were entrepreneurs with good ideas who just needed a little support who could go on to achieve incredible things. Well done Cemal!
He told us all a story that really resonated with me. He said he was sitting on a bus in Vietnam when a fellow traveller struck up a conversation, asking him about what he was up to with his life and then asked him if it passed the rocking chair test. When he was old and sitting in his chair looking back over his life, would he be proud of what he has achieved? It was a conversation that changed the course of his life from working in finance to founding Change Please. What an adventure that bus ride has turned into!
Another example is Loral Quinn, one half of the mother-daughter duo behind the app Sustainably. Their fin-tech start-up gives to causes you care about every time you shop using the simple idea of rounding up everyday transactions and giving your spare change to chosen good causes. She is another entrepreneur who has received a Virgin StartUp loan, and I previously surprised her and a group of founders by dropping by on a Virgin StartUp MasterClass in Edinburgh. Her idea is so simple but effective - which most of the good ideas are.
The third entrepreneur on the panel was Bridget Hilton, the founder of Lstn Sound Co. After seeing someone hear for the first time, she decided to focus her efforts on creating change through the power of sound and music. Through proceeds of sales from their headphones and speakers, LSTN Sound Co. has helped more than 30,000 people in 10 countries hear for the first time through charity partner, Starkey Hearing Foundation. I have witnessed a child hearing the sound of their mother’s voice for the first time in South Africa and I saw what an impact it can have on someone’s life. Her business shows how there is a demand for companies to offer more than just a product, but to solve a problem and have a positive impact.
Tracy Isacke from Silicon Valley Bank echoed a lot of the sentiment we feel about start-ups looking for funding at Virgin StartUp. She talked about how many of the best and most interesting ideas are the ones who solve a problem and know how to tell a good story. I couldn’t agree more - it’s the vital ingredients of a successful brand.
After we talked business, we also had a fantastic reason to celebrate – it’s Virgin Atlantic’s 35th birthday on the 22nd of July. It’s amazing to see what Virgin Atlantic has achieved in 35 years of flying, and our plans for the future. We are expanding and have recently announced two routes – to Sao Paulo and Tel Aviv. The new routes offer great business opportunities and lots of room to have some brand new adventures. It’s such an exciting time for Virgin Atlantic and it was a really inspiring day meeting lots of entrepreneurs who are proof that business really is an adventure.