Interviews

What do you get when you mix a supermodel, underwear expert and a YouTuber? Richard Branson recruits

3 min read

09 May 2016

Former deputy editor

Ahead of the £1m Virgin Media Business pitching extravaganza VOOM 2016 taking place on 28 June, the judges joining Richard Branson have been named, with supermodel Tyra Banks, Spanx creator Sara Blakely and YouTuber Marcus Butler all on the panel to decide which firms will win big.

For 2015, VOOM – which has been renamed from Pitch to Rich this year – guest judges who joined Branson and Virgin Media Business MD Peter Kelly included Jo Malone, Mumsnet founder Justine Roberts, Shutterstock founder Jon Oringer and male model David Gandy.

With a new batch of judges in Banks, Blakely and Butler, each will use their personal experience and knowledge of business to determine which companies will be named champions.

Banks has gone from strutting along the catwalk to launch her own production company, which resulted in the creation of America’s Next Top Model – a TV show aired in 186 countries. She’s also tapped into cosmetics with Tyra Beauty and the TZone Foundation, which encourages young women to chase their ambitions.

Fellow American entrepreneur Blakely has gone from launching a startup out of consumer frustration with $5,000 to create a fashion revolution with Spanx. The slimming line of products, which started as underwear but now also includes outerwear, has generated Blakely a $1.13bn worth.

How to pitch to billionaire investors like Virgin boss Richard Branson and win

Elsewhere, the youngest of the group, 24-year-old Butler will bring his experience of using YouTube – a trend that resulted in him generating over four million subscribers eager to view his latest videos. His social influencer status allowed him to pen a book and also create food service SourcedBox.

Categories to enter include “Startup and “Grow”, while the two VOOM 2016 winners will receive a cash prize of £50,000 for scaling, mentoring, £250,000 marketing campaigns, broadband package and more.

Commenting on the new recruits, Branson said: “We’ve got a powerful line-up of business talent who will bring an exciting energy and diverse range of experience to the judging panel.

“Each of these judges know first-hand the grit, dedication and determination it takes to start and build their own business. Virgin Media Business ‘VOOM 2016’ is a fantastic opportunity for entrepreneurs to gain exposure in front of the world’s best business minds and propel their business onto a global stage.”

Former Branson teammate David Gandy has experienced recent success with his investment project, UK ice cream brand Wheyhey, which is targeting a $5m VC funding round in the US.