The Virgin StartUp team regularly support businesses that embody Virgin Unite’s ethos of championing people, planet and profit.

The team support and grow entrepreneurs – both financially and through mentoring – and have helped hundreds of ideas flourish into successful and sustainable businesses. 

This week we’re sharing the story of Tom Birbeck, a Virgin StartUp entrepreneur, who’s working to save the ocean. Tom recently spoke to us about his business, ARC Marine, his passion for ocean conservation and about what he’s looking forward to in 2017.

ARC Marine is an artificial reef construction company established in 2015. I co- founded it alongside my business partner, James Doddrell with the aim of creating the largest artificial reef in Europe. James and I met through the research process of creating man-made reefs. James was a founding member of Wreck the World, a charity-run organisation that raised a bid of £3.5million for the HMS Ark Royal to be scuttled as a wreck. After researching the advantages and disadvantages for decommissioned vessels we focused on the alternatives, and began carrying out experiments using marine-friendly concrete.

We are witnessing the most widespread, longest coral bleaching event ever to occur globally.

It was then that we discovered not only the lack of artificial reefs in the UK compared to the rest of the world, but the problems these underwater habitats can solve. ARC Marine designs and builds artificial structures, which regenerate marine ecosystems into a thriving habitat. 

Virgin Unite, Virgin StartUp, ARC Marine

How does your business make a positive impact on people and the planet? 

Our company’s core values and long-term goals are based on making a positive impact on the planet. ARC marine was formed to create and replenish damaged marine habitats in areas of the UK, which need that extra help. The human race has created a man-made problem within the marine environment, and it’s time we produced a man-made solution to help fix it!

Since joining Virgin StartUp our business has evolved from being the dream and passion of two recreational divers to a commercially-run operation 

The current state of the world’s oceans is what drives us. We are witnessing the most widespread, longest coral bleaching event ever to occur globally. Critical levels of commercial fish stocks and destructive fishing methods are destroying and endangering the pink sea fan and short-snouted sea horse here in Devon. Without our help, the oceans could be damaged beyond repair. Only then will we truly understand how dependent we are on the marine world.

What changes have you had to make in order to start ARC Marine?

James and I have had to make major career changes since starting this company.  James was a supervisor at a metal recycling centre for eight years and is now in charge of product design and construction for ARC Marine. Although many skills from the recycling centre are transferable, this career path brings out James’s creativity and passion. As a result we now have patented products and a unique approach to reef design, combining ancient geometric shapes with the advantage of modern technology.   

Before ARC Marine I was pursuing a career in the documentary industry and was working freelance for production companies in central London. The transition from film researcher to co-founder has been a learning curve, but something both James and I have embraced. Our company is driven by passion and the people we have working with us is what makes our company so ambitious and determined. 

Virgin Unite, Virgin StartUp, ARC Marine

How did you hear about Virgin StartUp and what made you decide to make contact?

From the beginning, it was clear that Sir Richard and his children have a passion for the ocean. The achievements they have made through Virgin Unite and Sir Richard’s role as an Ocean Elder was inspirational to James and myself. We made contact with the Virgin headquarters in London and they urged me to apply through Virgin StartUp. After submitting an online application I had my first telephone call with a member of the team shortly afterwards. Eighteen months later our first artificial reef is going ahead thanks to the investment we received and the Virgin StartUp team believing in our idea! 

Virgin Unite, Virgin StartUp, ARC Marine

What difference has it made since joining Virgin StartUp?

Since joining Virgin StartUp our business has evolved from being the dream and passion of two recreational divers to a commercially-run operation with patented products and two projects in the pipeline to commence after our pilot study. 

The company has grown immensely in the first year. We welcomed James "Spud" Murphy to the team. James is a qualified marine scientist from Plymouth University. He spent two years in Cambodia monitoring sea grass and house reefs off the coasts of remote islands. He is Director of Marine Science in our company and is in charge of monitoring marine life before and after our reef is created. All potential negative and positive environmental impacts are taken into consideration when creating artificial marine habitats.

What do you hope to give to 2017? 

Our first significant artificial reef will be completed in 2017. We aim to prove the nationwide demand to help regenerate rocky reef areas and aim to deploy up to 300 marine-friendly concrete structures and begin the monitoring. 

If you’re an entrepreneur with a business plan that needs some financial backing, be sure tochat with Virgin StartUp – we could be featuring you next!