VOOM 2017 kicked off with a video featuring feedback from Branson, which was fused in-between current affairs clips, such as the EU Referendum, Scottish Referendum, Donald Trump’s presidency, and Theresa May’s snap general election, with “uncertainty” the overriding theme.
But, according to Branson: “Small businesses will turn that uncertainty into opportunity.”
Although he warned that the team is the major thing to consider when looking to invest in a company.
“There’s a lot of things you look at when you try and decide whether a business is going to be successful,” Branson said to the VOOM audience.
“I think the first thing is the team and whether they would be capable of building a business. There are lots of people with the same ideas, but unless it’s a really determined team they’re not going to get anywhere.
“The future of Great Britain and the future of world is going to be based on small businesses, future job growth, everything. Small business just makes such a positive difference to people’s lives.”
More than 5,000 entrepreneurs entered VOOM in 2016, with the pitching competition culminating in a 29-hour marathon that broke a Guinness World Record.
With this year’s edition of VOOM five months in the making, according to Virgin Media Business marketing director Duncan Higgins, the programme has undergone a change for 2017.
The traditional format that welcomes entries from across the country will not return until 2018, but a new style of the contest will take place with a regional VOOM Tour.
“We know broadband is amazing, by itself it’s not enough. There are other barriers that all businesses have to overcome to enable their business to VOOM. What more can we do at Virgin Media Business? Spread the VOOM message across the whole of the UK,” Higgins revealed.
With a VOOM-branded double-decker bus, the team will hit the road “to take VOOM to every single entrepreneur across the UK”.
Higgins detailed: “The idea is simple, if you rock up to the bus, we’ll use the couple of hours you spend with us to help your business VOOM.”
Whether that’s understanding social media, securing press, enhancing LinkedIn, looking for crowdfunding or otherwise, Virgin Media Business will leverage its existing partners – LinkedIn, Crowdfunder, JCDecaux, ICAEW – Higgins declared.
Cities on the VOOM Tour route include Manchester on 9-10 May, London at the Business Show, Excel Centre on 17 May, as well as Birmingham, Belfast, Cardiff, Dublin, Dundee, Edinburgh, Winchester, Newcastle and Glasgow.
“At each of the stops there’s going to be a pitching competition, a regional VOOM pitch to us and win an instant £5,000 to give them a kick start,” said Higgins.
In addition to each regional £5,000 prize, there’s also the chance to meet and secure advice from Branson, and registrations are now open.
In the meantime, Branson had this advice to offer: “Small businesses are more likely to suffer than big business from Brexit. Big businesses have got overseas earnings and dollars and as the pound goes down they’re able to cushion themselves.
“I think small businesses do need to make sure the government realises the importance of us being able to trade within Europe and it’s important we get that message across to those doing negotiations.
“The most important thing is that that market is not precluded for all small businesses and doesn’t become cumbersome, bureaucratic and expensive as it did before the European Union was formed. If we can get rid of that thing hanging around our necks, I think small businesses can continue to flourish.”
Closing on pitching guidance, he said keep it short and adopt the elevator pitch approach.
“Keep it short. I’m famously dyslexic, therefore, if we take an advert, ‘if Richard can understand it’, it will work. Simple, clear-cut messages. I think the simple rule of an elevator pitch, anything you can get across in an elevator,” he said.