Sir Richard Branson, David Gandy, Jo Malone, Shutterstock founder Jon Oringer and Mumsnet founder Justine Roberts aimed to identify the next generation of high-potential UK companies today in a startup event known as Pitch to Rich.
The high-profile judging panel congregated at Second Home in London to listen to nine startup finalists that were whittled down from over 2,500 entries.
"Everybody wants to be an entrepreneur and it’s fantastic to encourage, help and mentor them," said Branson, adding that the competition helps the startups to get their profiles up.
"I remember when I was a 15-year-old struggling to get started. I found one family friend who was a mentor who would help me with the figures at the weekend. In those days most companies were state-owned and there wasn’t that entrepreneurial zeal. It’s wonderful to see a building like this [Second Home] and see how much the world has changed. Entrepreneurs are making people's lives better and using their skills to try to solve the problems of the world. With that determination they can get on top."
Prizes were awarded to businesses across three categories: startup, new things and grow.
The winners were Kino-Mo (startup), a company that has a machine which projects holograms, Fourex (new things), a company that has built a currency conversion machine, and Just Park (grow), an app that helps drivers find parking spaces on other people’s driveways.
Talking about JustPark, whose CEO Alex Stephany blogs about the sharing economy on Techworld, Branson said: "I love ideas that fulfil a need. If there is an empty space somewhere and it's been locked up all day long while the owners go to work then it should be used. Car parking is at a premium and it’s expensive. I think it [JustPark] can be a global business and they should move quickly."
The winners will now receive a share of a £1 million total prize fund, with companies getting between £50,000 and £250,000 from Virgin Media Business.
The three category winners will also receive unlimited train travel on Virgin Trains, internet and telecoms from Virgin Media Business and membership to not-for-profit private members club, The House of St Barnabas.
They will also have access to mentoring and networking opportunities from the Virgin Group and some of its partners, including LinkedIn, Seedcamp, The Accelerator Network and presentation software firm Prezi.