OUT AND ABOUT: GEC (Global Entrepreneurial Congress)

This week I was invited to attend the GEC (Global Entrepreneurial Congress) as a guest of Virgin Media and the team who run Virgin Media Pioneers.  For those who are yet to come across VMP, it is an online community of entrepreneurs providing individuals with all the information required to get a business off the ground. Members have the opportunity to learn new things, share their story and probably the most important of all – build their network. It’s an amazing platform, so much so this will be the topic of my next blog post.

Anyhow I digress… in the days leading up to Tuesday’s event I learnt from the Virgin Media team 250 business individuals such as well established entrepreneurs like ex Dragon’s Den Dragon and founder of School for Startups Doug Richards and Paul Lindley founder and CEO of Ella’s Kitchen were to be in attendance of the large VIP group.  In addition to these business trail blazers, selected individuals running their own businesses, working within the enterprise organisations and business journalists would be in attendance too – travelling together from London to Liverpool (where the conference was taking place) on a Virgin train which had been appropriately named ‘GEC Express’. To have been included as a guest was a great honour.

I arrived at Euston Station for 6am, prior to the 6.30am departure.  On arrival I spotted a few individuals I guessed were attending GEC too, so went over to introduce myself.  After becoming acquainted with the these people which included the editor of Forbes Magazine (India) and Campaign Director for Start Up Britain in the main hall of Euston Station, we were escorted to Platform 16 to join the queue to board the train which was soon to depart.  In the queue I met two friendly women; Kanya King, CEO/founder of Mobo Awards and founder of Digiwoo Lisa Goodchild. After taking a few minutes out to explain to them both what Virgin Media Pioneers was about, it was our turn to be marked off the VIP list and board the train.

I joined the rest of the Virgin Media Pioneers on our designated carriage’; the wonderful Zoe Jackson, founder of Living the Dream, George Quann-Barnett founder of LaunchpadR, Jade Carlisle, founder of Global Moguls, Sam Zawadzki co-founder of Accendo Design, Ashley-Raw Tapping co-founder of LOUD Culture and Arnold du Toit founder of Drive Daddy – (do check out each of these guys as they’re all doing fantastic things within their respective industries).

I’m not a fan of long train journey’s however this 3 hour one wasn’t a problem at all. Not only were we in First Class being looked after extremely well by the Virgin Trains staff but  the journey was also packed with pleasant distractions throughout.

For instance not long after the train departed the station, the Virgin PR team had arranged for some of the VMP’s to be interviewed by a Newsnight journalist which was then followed by the Enterprise Correspondent from the Financial Times. After having the opportunity to wax lyrical about Emi & Ben and provide products to both reporters, we had the pleasure to meet the Godfather of enterprise ‘Sir Richard Branson’, as he walked through each carriage to greet everyone on board. All of this activity took place before 9am – not too shabby for a morning work!

Once we arrived in Liverpool and Richard Branson had entertained the crowd with a photocall capturing him driving the Virgin train as it pulled into Liverpool Lime Street Station, there were three coaches waiting to take everyone to the Liverpool’s Echo arena where the main event was to take place.

Many speakers were scheduled to take centre stage at the conference, the timetable was packed, starting from 8.00am right through to 5.40pm.  Speakers included former CEO of Tesco’s Sir Terry Leahy, Lord Heseltine, Founder of Haymarket Group, Mark Prisk MP, UK Minister for Business and Enterprise, Martha Lane-Fox co-founder of Lastminute.com and Lucky Voice my ex mentor Wilfred Emmanuel-Jones, founder of The Black Farmer food range and the talented Michael Hayman, the PR genius who co-founded the agency Seven Hills – one of the most hardworking and talented PR companies I know and part of the team behind the delivery of the GEC event.

Throughout Branson’s time on stage I was completely captivated by him whilst the moderator, entrepreneur Mike Southon ,took the delegates through his journey. From starting his first business; ‘Student Magazine’ to his latest ventures with Virgin Unite and Virgin Galactic. I think the thousands of people who were present were in complete awe when it was shown just in a short video clip all the brands he owns and just how much he’s achieved in all these years. This section of the day, truly did inspire me. Doting after celebrities/personalities is not my thing, but this guy, Sir Richard Branson, is truly a remarkable man and being in the presence of someone of his status, really does encourage one, well it did me to continue working hard and aiming high.

Whilst on stage Richard Branson, talked about why he was able to take on the ‘big boys’ within airline and banking; he put it simply “because I know I could do it better”. Easy to fall off the tongue this may be and something which I suppose many business owners set out to achieve, however, how many really do conquer this? These words resonated with me on this day, more than they ever did. Yes, it’s not rocket science what he said and  to be fair, I’ve read and heard business people say this many times, however on this day for some reason, hearing him say it was different to all the other times.

Whilst I was well aware the entire day in Liverpool was going to be a rewarding one, the main thing I was looking forward to, was having lunch with Richard Branson alongside the other VMP’s as we were each to be given the opportunity to present our businesses to him.  During my time with him, I discussed the background as to why Emi & Ben was founded, talked about my product range, showing him the products whilst we chatted. He was receptive, taking all what I said on board throwing back questions to me and so on. Later in the conversation he confirmed he had recently invested in a distribution company which may be a right fit to distribute my products throughout Africa, should it be a market I’m looking to target. He preceeded to liaise with his colleagues and confirmed they’d be in touch with me to make this happen. Long term the plan is for Emi & Ben to be available across all continents, to know I may have one of them covered with the help of Richard Branson is truly crazy. PEOPLE PRAY FOR ME THIS DOES HAPPEN!  I’ll keep you posted…

The good stuff didn’t stop there… I made sure to get a picture with him holding a jar of Emi & Ben : ) and without prompting he gave me an amazing quote: “if using Emi & Ben body butter makes me have skin like yours, then I’m taking this jar”… Expect to see this in the next E & B campaign…hahaha!

To attend a conference of this kind isn’t cheap; I believe tickets for the all day event were in the region of £150, however, I do have to say, whilst such a cost may be expensive for a small business, the benefit far outweighs the cost. My advice to a young business owner would be they try to budget to attend such a conference like the GEC, at least once or twice a year, as I guarantee you – it will push you to sit up straight and evaluate your journey so far, in addition to review what needs to happen to reach your desired end goal and “be better than the competition”.  Most importantly it EXPANDS YOUR NETWORK – which is invaluable. The individuals I met with have the ability and willingness to assist me with my business where they can.  I don’t know about you but I’m more than happy to take them up on their kind offer and should I be able to assist them too – then it’s a job well done.

Get networking people…