Richard Branson backs three small businesses at pitching event

The Guardian report on the Pitch to Rich winners here


Businesses pitched to a panel of leading entrepreneurs for a share of £1m prize fund at the Pitch to Rich competition


Richard Branson, Jo Malone, Justine Roberts and Jon Oringer were part of a judging panel putting small businesses through their paces at an event in London on Friday.


The entrepreneurs, who were joined by model David Gandy and Peter Kelly, managing director of Virgin Media Business, crowned the winners of the Pitch to Rich competition, which aimed to identify high-potential firms and received more than 2,500 entries.


The winners were Kino-mo (in the “startup” category), which produces mass market holograms, Fourex (“new things” category), which makes currency exchange machines, and JustPark (“grow” category), a sharing-economy app that helps drivers find parking spaces. 


The winners of the Virgin Media Business competition will be given a share of a £1m prize fund, with prizes ranging from £50,000 and £250,000.


“When I started off in business 50 years ago, the word entrepreneur didn’t exist,” said Richard Branson. “I remember when I was 15 years old struggling to get started. I found one family friend who was a mentor and helped me with the figures at the weekend. In those days most of the companies were state owned, there just wasn’t that entrepreneurial zeal.”


Branson said it was “wonderful” to see how much things have changed, and that business owners are using their skills to “solve the problems of the world”.


Mumsnet founder Justine Roberts spoke of some of the challenges facing businesses today, saying they have to be “more human than they used to be”, and prepared to “engage and have a personality”.


She added: “The [businesses] we really relate to are ones that have a bit of humanity.”


Nine businesses were shortlisted after a three-month search and more than 685,000 public votes. At the live final on Friday they were each given a few minutes to pitch in front of the judges, who quizzed them about their propositions, before deliberating about the winners.


On top of the prize money, the three winners will receive unlimited train travel on Virgin Trains, membership to not-for-profit private members club, The House of St Barnabas, and will be given access to mentoring and networking opportunities through the Virgin Group.


Jon Oringer, CEO of Shutterstock, a stock photography, footage and music provider, said: “There was something about each business that was amazing, and that’s what made it so hard.”