Why start-ups should partner with bigger businesses

At Virgin we’ve always loved partnering with other brands – especially when we share a common purpose. Partnering with other businesses as a way to help both companies grow is tactic we’ve used from the very start. When we launched Virgin Records we were unable to afford the rent on central London premises. Yet, we still managed to open our first shop in the capital’s busiest road - Oxford Street. This was because we were able to get a free space above a shoe shop by promising we’d help them sell a lot of Dr Martens to customers who came past to buy records from us. That partnership helped launch Virgin into the global brand it is today.

When you’re a start-up, big brands love to partner with you. They can often be the clunky, slow moving mammoth, while start-ups usually have fresh ideas, are agile and come with bags of personality.

When we first launched Virgin Atlantic, the airline industry was a greying institution run by faceless corporates. Then we came along with bright red uniforms, TVs on the back of seats and a limo chauffeur service for customers. We were disrupting the industry and bigger brands wanted to align themselves with us to boost their image. This is how we were able to feature Virgin Atlantic in its first TV advert. At the time we had no budget to pay for promotions; we were focused on carrying out attention-grabbing moments to win valuable newspaper column space. But on this occasion American Express had just launched its new Amex card and wanted it to be seen being used by people and brands with an edgier image.

The ad itself saw me using the card to fill up a Virgin Atlantic plane with fuel at a high-street petrol garage. It was Virgin Atlantic’s first TV ad and it was also the first time I’d been required to act (it still makes me squirm watching this back - as you can imagine it took quite a few takes for me to get the lines right!)

As a start-up, winning a contract with a big business can be the difference between success and failure. As well as the financial boost it provides, working with an established company brings credibility to your own business and usually leads to more doors opening for you.

It’s great that we can help fresh new businesses with Virgin StartUp – the entrepreneurial home of the Virgin brand. Since launching in late 2013 it has supported over 2,000 entrepreneurs in the UK and distributed more than £30m in the process. Through working with so many growing businesses, the team at Virgin StartUp has seen first-hand the impact that backing from a household name can have on a new company.

They are now running a dedicated Doing Business With Big Business event, which teaches entrepreneurs how procurement works in large organisations. This half-day workshop finishes with an exclusive meet-the-buyer session where entrepreneurs get to pick the brains of buyers from the UK’s largest companies including Virgin Atlantic, Tesco and John Lewis. Find out about the next event here.

I’m thrilled to hear that many of the entrepreneurs who’ve attended these workshops have since landed contracts with big businesses. One of those is Love Corn, a premium roasted corn snack, which is now stocked across the UK in Virgin Trains, Tesco, Sainsbury’s and WHSmiths.

Throughout the Virgin Group we’re focused on continual innovation to keep ourselves at the cutting edge of our industries. One way we do that is by working with start-ups whenever we can. Some culinary examples of start-up success have been stocking astronaut ice cream in the mini bar of Virgin Hotels Chicago and handing out Peppersmith mints on Virgin Atlantic flights.

The Virgin Group is always on the look out for exciting businesses to partner or work with. From early stage start-ups to multi-million pound corporates, we offer a range of opportunities helping businesses of many sizes and stages.

To find out which opportunity is most suitable for you and your business, click here.


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