Virgin Media Voom


Richard Branson is a business rock star. Be it careering round the world in a hot air balloon, bungee jumping off a Las Vegas casino or driving a car across the English Channel (dressed in a tuxedo, no less) the business magnate is a walking talking advert for entrepreneurism.

And for his latest project to showcase young business talent, Branson has likely done more for the appeal of food and drink than 10 years of a cranky Lord Sugar wagging his finger at arrogant upstarts. After months of voting and a record-breaking ‘Pitchathon’, the six finalists of Branson’s Virgin Media Business Voom 2016 were handed their final chance to fight for a £250,000 investment today, with foodie businesses making up no less than half of the illustrious shortlist.

Food waste software platform Food Cloud joined the founders of Sibberi Birch Water and tech firm Bio Bean, which transforms waste coffee grounds into jet fuel, to face a panel that put The X Factor to shame. US supermodel Tyra Banks, vlogging superstar Marcus Butler and Spanx creator Sara Blakely all joined Branson to grill contestants.

If there were a few stutters and sweaty palms among these young founders, you could hardly blame them. Forced to scale an inclining walkway bathed in spotlights before facing a judging panel towering metres above them, this was scary stuff.

But (unlike the English football team) none faltered under the pressure. Sibberi co-founder Mehdi Meghzifene cracked jokes about Russian models and Beyoncé as he sold the merits of tapping into trees to create healthy drinks, while FoodCloud CEO and co-founder Iseult Ward charmed Branson with her “brilliant” model to manage waste.

There could only be one winner, though. And Bio Bean founder Arthur Kay was a truly deserving one after outlining a complex eco-plan to power planes and trains with waste coffee grounds with hardly a stumble. “That’s unbelievable,” a shocked Kay said to Branson as he climbed up on stage to collect his trophy before posing for a group shot.

His win uploaded to social media seconds later under the hashtag #Voom – along with a behind-the-scenes video and a Branson/Banks selfie – this was business for the 21st century. With fmcg struggling to woo the talent it needs, this was a lesson in how to prove a career in food isn’t all boardrooms and budget meetings. And who better to learn from than the biggest business rock star around?