Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : January 19th 2017 Contents JANUARY 19 • 2017 guardian.co.tt BUSINESS GUARDIAN
COMMENTARY | BG13
Help the next generation
The start of the year is always
a good time for reflection and
for setting personal resolu-
tions and goals. In that spir-
it, I want to encourage people
who have founded businesses
or who are in more established positions in
their companies to resolve to help at least one
budding entrepreneur in 2017.
As I've written before, the hardest part of
founding a business is just keeping it alive in
the first year. Research shows that this is when
a majority of companies fail. After all, in the
first few months cash is tight and experience
Throughout the years, I've found that one of
the best ways to prevent this from happening
is by pairing energetic founders with knowl-
edgeable mentors who can offer advice and
experience. Too often, the same two mistakes
are made when new businesses are launched:
underestimating the cost of starting up, and
overestimating the speed at which your en-
terprise will take off.
I have often cited the late Sir Freddie Lak-
er, founder of Laker Airways, for his guidance
when I started Virgin Atlantic in the 1980s.
It was his idea to use myself to promote the
airline, and that pushed Virgin onto the front
pages of newspapers. But his advice not only
helped put Virgin Atlantic on the map, it low-
ered our marketing costs and inspired the ad-
venturous and fun-loving spirit that has served
us so well for more than 30 years.
Today, the same quality of advice and experi-
ence that Sir Freddie provided to me is needed
by thousands of startups being created all over
the world. In the UK, Virgin supports the gov-
ernment-backed Start-Up Loans programme
with our own team, Virgin Start-Up, to provide
guidance on everything from writing business
plans to hiring employees to exporting and
selling products to larger businesses.
The team at Virgin Start-Up spends a lot
of time matching our fledgling companies
to suitable mentors to help them survive and
thrive. To date, we have helped more than 1,550
new companies receive government-backed
loans and the majority of them had a helpful
mentor on board. The pace of activity is not
slowing in the UK, and we are well on our way
to reaching the 2,000 mark in 2017.
In the US, however, there is no such gov-
ernment-sponsored programme for startups.
Once outside of established cities such as San
Francisco, Boston and New York, many young
companies are reliant on local city hubs to gain
access to finance and a network of supporters.
Here, you are seeing more experienced busi-
nesses step up to provide the initial spark and
sometimes even the capital.
In Detroit, Dan Gilbert, who founded Quick-
en Loans, has invested heavily in the downtown
area, revitalising and modernising buildings
to create workspaces and loft living areas for
the young and entrepreneurial. His vision has
breathed life back into the city and has helped
curb the long decline in the urban population,
which is starting to grow again.
But Gilbert is not alone. My friend Kevin
Plank, who founded Under Armour, has an
equally ambitious vision for Baltimore and
its harbour. He has put together a partnership
with the city to invest billions of dollars in re-
building an area called Port Covington, where
large businesses such as Procter & Gamble once
had their offices.
Plank's plan is to lure companies into Balti-
more to create new jobs and new communities.
He has already turned an old bus depot into a
bustling startup hub called City Garage. It's
now home to an aspiring company that makes
some of the best skateboards in the world, and
another that's developing augmented reality
displays, among other companies.
Next to City Garage, Plank has created The
Foundery, which teaches people metalwork-
ing, laser engraving, blacksmithing and wood-
working using state-of-the-art tools. This also
will allow startups to test and manufacture
Around all of these initiatives, we are seeing
companies grow and encourage others to travel
that tough but rewarding road to success. As
they build their businesses, all of them will
need advice, experience and a sounding board.
If you have that experience, make it one of
your goals for 2017 to find an entrepreneur or
fledgling business that you can help!
(Richard Branson is the founder of the Virgin
Group and companies such as Virgin Atlantic,
Virgin America, Virgin Mobile and Virgin Active.
He maintains a blog at www.virgin.com/richard-
branson/blog. You can follow him on Twitter
at twitter.com/richardbranson. To learn more
about the Virgin Group: www.virgin.com.)
(Questions from readers will be answered in
future columns. Please send them to Richard.
Branson@nytimes.com. Please include your
name, country, e-mail address and the name of
the website or publication where you read the
How you can help
If you're an entrepreneur, you know how tough
starting a business can be. In 2017, let's pledge
to help a fledgling business succeed by offering:
• Advice: Be available to offer tips and share
• Mentorship: I believe that mentorship is
immensely valuable, and it’s easy to connect
online with budding entrepreneurs who could
use some guidance.
• Encouragement: Invest in local businesses,
purchase products and services or promote
them on social media.
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