Why I invest in start-ups

Why do I invest in start-ups? Because they are the job creators and innovators of the future. I am delighted to see so many entrepreneurs taking their start-ups to the next level and transforming the way we do business. 

These businesses not only have the potential to become a vital source of employment, innovation and productivity to economies, they are a shining example to younger generations that creativity, passion and hard work can change the world for the better.

Virgin is a brand that appreciates the benefits smart disruption can bring. We love original products that make a positive difference to people’s lives and services that shake up markets. Investing in these exciting start-ups and giving them the funds they need to grow into companies that deliver on their disruptive potential is essential.

Every day I meet ambitious entrepreneurs who believe their approach is a better alternative to what the industry is currently offering customers. Uber, HailO and SideCar are three apps in the transport sector that have caught my attention. People want quickly accessible, convenient and reasonably priced ways to travel around the world’s busiest cities and these apps are meeting these needs and disrupting a market that has remained unchanged for many years.

Finance is another area where I see exciting opportunities. Indiegogo, a crowdfunding platform, allows entrepreneurs better and cheaper access to the seed financing they need to get their business up and running. Similarly, Bitcoin is creating an entirely new form of currency. I was happy to see PayPal announce they will integrate BitPay into their website, and we are also accepting Bitcoin on Virgin Galactic.

Square and Clinkle are other interesting start-ups in this sector, while Transferwise is another clever way to avoid hidden transfer costs when people send money abroad. By using a peer-to-peer model, customers can save 90% on transfer fees compared to what traditional banks are offering.

In healthcare, Doctor On Demand uses smartphones to connect patients with doctors. This allows people to see a doctor from the comfort of their home and gain immediate care without the need to spend money and time getting to a hospital. It also means that quality medical care is not limited to those that live within commuting distance of a hospital.

There are some other emerging technologies with huge potential. Educational businesses such as Codecademy are needed to enable young people to learn the skills necessary to enter the job market and develop their own new ideas. CreativeLive, an online learning platform that broadcasts live classes to an international audience, is offering a whole new way of democratising education.

3D printing’s ability to reduce our reliance on transportation is another interesting area, as are drones companies like 3D Robotics being used to film aerial footage (see video below) or even stop poaching. Humin, a new contacts platform, ensures I never forget a name. As I travel, the most important people to me in that location surface to the top. When I meet someone new, Humin identifies all the people we have in common and will remember the context of that interaction. It’s a great way of remembering and building meaningful relationships, as is the photo-sharing and messaging app Path.

Silicon Valley has had some enormous success stories over the years and I would like to see European start-up hubs further their support of the brightest and most ambitious founders. American groups have attracted more than five times the investment from venture capitalists this year than in European deals ($41 billion compared to $8 billion). 

London, in particular, has a real opportunity to match Silicon Valley’s prowess. One way we can support this is by increasing our appetite for early-stage investments and creating a fantastic environment for start-ups to thrive in. I am delighted to be an investor in Mosaic Ventures, a new Silicon Valley-style fund that is willing to take a chance on aspirational tech founders. Founded by former Virgin colleague Toby Coppel and two other experienced tech investors - I'm sure it will do well.

Image from Virgin StartUp

Start-ups have the potential to become some of the world’s largest and best companies.

Every global company today, from Apple to Google, Twitter (another small investment!) to Virgin, started off as a start-up and it is important that we continue to create the environment for start-ups to thrive in whilst they embark on their exciting journeys.

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