“A tiny amount of money can start an empire” – Sir Richard Branson

Startups catches up with the Virgin billionaire to find out his views on the UK’s entrepreneurial landscape…

63 year-old Sir Richard Branson remains as ambitious today as he was aged 16 when he used £300 from his mum to start a magazine called Student.

The man who put the world’s most subversive band on the map and kept Air Traffic Control busy for decades then embarked on a mission to sell space travel and brought the Elders of the world together to solve global crises. And the dreams continue to spill forth thick and fast.

One of these dreams, he tells us, is to launch satellites in space to “make satellite available to three billion people” who don’t have access.

Feted the world over as an inspiration to new generations of entrepreneurs, Startups.co.uk caught up with the business magnate at his family home in Oxford at the Virgin Media Pioneers ‘Pitch to Rich event’.

Sharing his views on crowdfunding; “potentially too good to be true”, the term entrepreneur as a “dirty word” and how some of the “least personable people make the best entrepreneurs”, here’s what the Virgin tycoon had to say…

Branson on the UK’s business landscape

How would you do things differently if you were your 16 year-old self starting a business today?

“Well, when I started out we didn’t have the internet or mentors. Entrepreneurship back then was a dirty word – it was not accepted, people were expected to become lawyers, doctors, bankers, not entrepreneurs who got their hands dirty. The idea of the entrepreneur landscape today would have been unimaginable then.”

Branson on start-up hubs and accelerators

Do you think there’s value in business collaboration and start-up hubs?

“There’s big value in making connections and networking and piggybacking to help each other. It’s something I didn’t have when I started out. Nine out of 10 businesses fail so increasing the odds is a good thing.”

Are there too many tech accelerator programmes in the UK today?

“There can never be too many technology accelerators. There may only be a handful that succeed but we [the UK] have just got to get out there and compete with San Francisco.”

Branson on pitching

What do you look for in a business pitch?

“Personality is important. Having said that some of the least personable people can make the best entrepreneurs.

“My favourite pitch today was ICanMake (3D printing for schools) and I thought it was particularly exciting with the 3D element. I really like that and to me it felt good. I think in three years the business will be doing really well, maybe we should have a bet on it.

[PR interjects to say that ICanMake founder Chris Thorpe was the former CTO of Moshi Monsters]

“Why didn’t he say that in his pitch! He should go back and tell the other judges and convince them!

“For most businesses when it comes to pitching I would say just do it!”

Today’s Pitch to Rich prize package is £5,000, what would you spend £5,000 on as a start-up?

“I always say that a tiny amount of money can start an empire. My mum found a gold necklace and handed it in to the police, when no one collected it she got it back and sold it for £300 and gave the money to me. That £300 covered the start-up costs of launching my magazine business [Student] age 16.

“There are businesses you can start without funding; take Virgin for example, we’ve got no shares which has enabled us to remain independent.”

Branson on alternative finance

What’s your view on alternative finance and crowdfunding?

“I think crowdfunding is spectacular and really exciting. It’s potentially too good to be true but I would advise entrepreneurs to do it while it’s hot.”

Branson on his next venture

What’s next for Virgin?

“I named my book Losing My Virginity but I should have called it Talking Ahead of Myself, for I’m forever talking ahead and looking to the future but you’ve got to dream big. I think [that when you start a business] it’s important for it to be about dreams coming true. I would like to launch satellites in space that would have a transformative impact around the world. It would make satellite available to three billion people.”

Sir Richard Branson was speaking at a roundtable conference as part of the Virgin Media Pioneers ‘Pitch to Rich’ competition 2014. 


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