Sir Richard Branson has asked model David Gandy and fragrance entrepreneur Jo Malone to help him identify some of the UK’s most innovative new startups and small businesses.

Gandy and Malone will sit on the “Pitch to Rich” judging panel next month alongside Branson, Shutterstock founder Jon Oringer, mumsnet founder Justine Roberts and Virgin Media Business MD Peter Kelly.

David Gandy©Conor Clinch
David Gandy©Conor Clinch

Virgin Media Business said over 2,500 companies have applied to one of the three categories: Startup, New Things and Grow.

The overall prize money of £1 million is significantly more than the £10,000 offered last year, indicating that Branson could be realising the increasing value in the flourishing UK startup scene. 

The increase in funding comes after Techworld questioned the relatively low amount on offer last year, particularly when Branson's vast fortune is taken into account. 

The Startup category seeks to find “exciting new businesses with huge potential”. The winner will receive £150,000 in marketing support as well as mentoring and help from Virgin Startup’s professional business advisors. Two runners up will get £50,000 marketing support.

The New Things category is aiming to identify “big new ideas with the capacity to disrupt”. The winner will receive £50,000 cash towards development, plus mentoring from Virgin’s Investment Team. Two runners-up receive £10,000 each towards development. 

The Grow category is for existing businesses that are “ready to go big-time”. The winner gets £250,000 marketing support, and two runners-up receive £100,000 marketing support.

Winners will also get free rides on Branson’s Virgin trains for a year, free internet for a year, a place on the accelerator network programme, a membership to the not-for-profit private members club at The House of St Barnabas.

The Virgin billionaire is holding the competition at his Oxfordshire mansion on 26 June. 

“I am thrilled to be joined by such an experienced panel of judges,” said Branson. “Setting up a business is a huge challenge, the Virgin Media Business Pitch to Rich competition is a great opportunity for entrepreneurs to develop their ideas and make their mark, whether they are a startup or a well-established business. I can’t wait to meet the finalists next month.

Last year’s winners included premium self-storage service Boxhug and art marketplace miPic.