Virgin StartUp Entrepreneur on Necker Island
We get a lot of incredible opportunities for the entrepreneurs we fund finding its way to us. But Nathaniel Peat, co-founder of Gennex, bagged the best one yet – an all expenses paid trip to Necker Island to meet with Sir Richard Branson and take part in a Leadership Gathering.
Gennex is a company that used its £10,000 Virgin StartUp loan to develop renewable technologies for good. Whether its giving remote African communities easier access to electricity or teaching children in disadvantaged UK areas how to build their own solar tools, Gennex’s work has the potential to change the world. In this blog, Nathaniel talks us through what happened while on the ultimate entrepreneurial island.
When I received the call on April 1st from Virgin that I had won a once-in-a-lifetime experience trip to Necker Island at the end of May, I was blown away with shock and excitement. The trip was between 20th and 25th May 2015 and was a special Leadership Gathering to discuss how we could collaborate and join forces to create a positive change in the world. To be given the opportunity to present my business at such a gathering was amazing, and to do it on Necker was even more thrilling.
The week started off with drinks and a welcome dinner at the Great House. Day 2 followed with presentations from the CEO of Virgin Unite Jean Oelwang and other philanthropists, speaking about the ways in which they are disrupting for the social good of humanity. The evening included a valuable question and answer session with Richard Branson - not to mention a range of fun activities that we engaged in around the island after the morning presentations!
Day 3 started with a bang as we all put on our swimsuits and headed to Moskito Island for watersports. Both myself and fellow competition winner Zakheni Ngubo sailed the 2 mile journey from Necker over to Moskito Island for breakfast. In a slightly surreal twist, Richard Branson himself kite-surfed alongside us while others swam, sailed and opted for the boat ride. Over breakfast I was lucky enough to have a good conversation with Richard at breakfast and told him about the work GeNNex has been doing. Hearing him say well done and commending the work really gave me a boost - the energy around the table was really motivating.
Day 3 was the highlight for me. The speakers were amazing, and myself and Zakheni were interviewed by Richard Branson before being quizzed by the philanthropists that were guests on the island. It was really encouraging when the guests followed up with private conversations with me after this, expressing their interest in knowing more. And the end of all that, Russell Brand brought the house down with laughter and jokes.
Day 4 saw even more motivation and inspiration come our way, with presentations on leadership from President Zedillo and Simon Sinek, time to enjoy the island, and a beach BBQ at Bali Hi Beach in the evening with music and great food. Day 5 was full of fun as we went snorkelling with Guy Harvey, zip-lined, sailed and enjoyed other watersports. We also watched the screening of Breaking the Taboo – Leading Drug Reform, facilitated by Sam Branson, and had a invigorating discussion on what governments can do to create a change in the drug laws.
I spent some more time with Richard during dinner, and Russell Brand also filmed a video for me supporting the work of GeNNex. The whole day was great and the party that night was on fire - a real dancing affair that everyone enjoyed! The next day was a sad one as we said our goodbyes and left, but the whole experience was informative, entertaining, and above all, inspirational.
The whole week helped to reenergise my efforts to make a greater impact in the world, and I have learnt so much from the philanthropists and from Richard. I have returned to the UK armed with ideas and opportunities to grow and develop my business further. Both myself and Dowa Ojarikre (the co-founder of GeNNex) are extremely grateful and thankful to Virgin Unite, Virgin Media Pioneers and Virgin StartUp.
If you’re an entrepreneur thinking about taking out a loan from Virgin StartUp, I would 100% encourage you to do so. The organisations are fantastic and the support offered is great. I’m very happy to now belong to the network of entrepreneurs in the Virgin communities and look forward to collaborating with others so we can join forces to create a better change in the world. I hope someday in the future I will be able to return to Necker!
Finally, here are seven lessons I learnt from my time with Richard and other influential leaders:
1. Leaders eat last; treat your staff well and better than yourself, no matter what their level.
2. Be human; instead of a email, send a thank you letter or card. Meet up, and remember the importance of face to face contact.
3. Encourage your co-workers; congratulate people and make them feel special.
4. Keep on pushing forward until you make it to the top, but never stop learning.
5. When expanding, ensure you maintain quality when seeking partnerships.
6. Take time to rest - don't burn out.
7. Find people that are better at doing things than you, and integrate them into your team!