Business is GREAT with Virgin Trains – a day of networking in motion

Recently a few of our startups participated in a networking event with a difference – the Business is GREAT initiative with Virgin Trains, partnering with Funding Circle. Highlighting Virgin Trains’ commitment to supporting SMEs, the businesses took part in exclusive advisory sessions with leading financial and export experts.

Our Virgin StartUp funded businesses Protein Pouch and Mous headed to Birmingham International station, before hopping on a train with other small business owners from across the country and expert advisers from the British Business Bank, ICAW, ABFA and Funding Circle, as well as UK Trade & Investment. Once in London they were free to spend the day networking, attending meetings, or doing whatever they liked in the city, and were provided with a first-class ticket to take them back to Birmingham when they were ready, as well as another complementary first-class ticket.

Here are some lessons we learnt from the day.

Different environments can be beneficial

Networking at 125mph is a networking experience quite unlike any other! Different environments drive different conversations and help people change the way they think a bit. It’s a way of shaking things up that can lead to different connections, different approaches, and some very interesting conclusions.

Diversity is important

Having a large, engaged and diverse range of companies aboard the train really sparked a lot of ideas and got people thinking differently. There were businesses from all industries and backgrounds, and everyone learnt a lot from the others on the train, bouncing ideas off each other - some of the best ideas and solutions came from the most unlikely sources. Networking and brainstorming events that don’t just stick to one industry or level can yield amazing results.

Helping SMEs know when to export

It was great to find out more about the UKTI’S Passport to Export programme first-hand, and for the startups to find out about the options out there for those who want to export. It can be difficult to know about the resources out there – and there are some fantastic ones! Which brings us to…

Startups need to seek out advice

One of the most important issues raised was the idea that startups and SMEs need to ask for help more – it can be hard to swallow your pride and ask for support, but those who did really benefit.

One of the key blockers in reaching out for this support is how overwhelming it can feel – the information is in too many places, it can be confusing, and so much of business advice out there is too complex to understand at a glance. At Virgin StartUp we pride ourselves on trying to cut through the jargon and provide business information that can be understood easily.

Debt can be a good way to finance your business

Debt financing (aka loans) can be a great way to finance your business. It allows you to retain ownership of your business. One important point made was that ultimately it’s your personality that sets your business apart in the market, an element that can be compromised if you involve investors with financial interests. However the key to making debt financing work is understanding your business – this is why you produce a business plan and financials, and why coaching and mentoring is so important.

Thanks to the startups who came along for a fantastic day, and we’re excited to see Virgin Trains’ commitment to SMEs!