Launching a business from a tent and having Sir Richard Branson fly you to pitch in Australia are a couple of good stories for any founder to have in their locker. But Nottingham-based entrepreneur Ross Kemp says the biggest help came from Virgin StartUp’s Crowdboost accelerator programme.

Photo of Ross Kemp

Ross, 31, is the founder of Asap water crafts, producing and selling a range of electric-powered water boards – a cross between a jet ski and a paddle board.

Whilst studying product design at Loughborough University, Ross was part of the lifesaving swimming club and wanted to create a quick launch rescue craft to reach and rescue people quicker in water. Working full time as an engineer, designing vacuum cleaners at Vax after graduating, he launched his new venture from a tent in his back garden during his evenings and weekends.

And a chance meeting with Sir Richard Branson on BBC Three’s Be Your Own Boss programme came soon after. The Virgin boss was so impressed with Ross’ designs, he flew him over to Australia to talk to lifeguards over there.

Sir Richard has previously spoken about Ross’ work, saying: “I have had my share of close shaves, and have been rescued from sinking boats and balloons many times, even had to swim for shore once clinging to a plank of wood. I think the Asap water craft is a fantastic invention and will be a wonderful success...anything that can help lifeguards reach drowning casualties faster must be a good thing.”

Originally designed as a rescue jet board, the product range has been expanded to thrill-seekers and explorers as well as lifesavers.

But it was Virgin StartUp’s crowdfunding accelerator programme Crowdboost that really helped Ross kickstart his business.

“We wanted to crowdfund and Crowdboost was incredible,” he says. “If it wasn’t for Crowdboost, we wouldn’t have raised anywhere near as much as we did.

“I thought it was just about launching a campaign and seeing how it went, but Crowdboost showed that it was the opposite – the hard work needed to be done before you even launched a crowdfunding campaign.

“I would have been one of those people hoping people would find our campaign on the internet and get involved.”

Photo of an Asap water craft

Ross’ crowdfunding campaign was extremely successful, raising £298,000 worth of pledges – almost double his £150,000 target.

He added: “Marketing was extremely important. My background is in product design so I’m comfortable with that, but marketing was really new to me. Now that’s what excites me the most.

“At Crowdboost, I learnt so much. For example, a really simple thing was around how much LinkedIn could help us reach the B2B community. It’s now one of our main tools. And likewise, in the B2C market, I had to learn how to market to people and found out what makes people tick.

“Rather than focusing on the product, we had to shift mindset and focus on the experience. We are selling exploration and freedom on the water.

“And that applies to investors too. Investors are really important to me, and I try to keep them updated as much as possible with a monthly update. I try to be as honest as possible to show them the ups and downs – and when I come across any problems, they’re often the first people to show support, give me advice and open up their networks to help me overcome any issues.”

Find out more about our Crowdboost accelerator programme today