The most satisfying aspect of starting a business is creating something that’s going to make a positive difference in the lives of others — something that you can be proud of. I recently met a number of entrepreneurs who are doing just that.
While I was judging the final leg of Virgin Media’s Business VOOM contest, our 14-week competition for entrepreneurs in the UK, I was particularly impressed to see that many of the six finalists were trying to launch businesses focused on creating a positive impact for customers.
In fact, the businesses that my fellow judges and I chose as winners in both the Start-Up and Grow categories are focused on recycling and repurposing waste in a way that creates something new and makes a profit.
Toby McCartney, the winner of the Start-Up category and the founder of MacRebur, has come up with an innovative way to turn recycled plastic into asphalt. Toby and his team — three dads of six daughters — want to leave a better planet behind for their children, and they are working toward that goal by coming up with a way to build stronger, greener and cheaper roads. As a proud father of two and grandfather of three, I fully support their efforts.
His fellow winner in the Grow category, Bio-bean founder Arthur Kay, runs a service that gathers used coffee grounds from coffee shops and cafes (which would otherwise be thrown out) and creates advanced biofuels from them. Arthur then sells the biofuels to businesses, helping to reduce carbon emissions.
More and more entrepreneurs are realising that purpose is just as important as profit. As Antony Jenkins, the former CEO of Barclays, said at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, last year: “Purpose is not an add-on, it’s not an initiative. It is a culture change and it never finishes.”
For beginning entrepreneurs, the decision to pursue this path can take courage, but if you boldly put purpose over profit, the latter will follow the former. Over the past five decades at Virgin, we’ve learnt this as we’ve focused on making our customer’s lives better.
If it meant ignoring the industry “rules”, or the usual way of doing things, we carried on — and saw that as a signal that we were onto something good. It has never mattered if we had expertise in a given sector or not; when we’ve seen an opportunity, we’ve taken the risk that we can learn on the job.
The purpose-driven approach is so deeply part of Virgin’s DNA that it has turned us into something of way-of-life brand: Whether you need to fly from place to place, call your mom, check on your finances or go for a workout, we offer those services.
If you’re thinking about becoming an entrepreneur, what’s the motivation behind your idea? What inspired that first thought that you could do a better job, and whose life did you want to improve? When you know the answers, that can shape the entire culture of your business — and spark the kind of drive that will help sustain you, your employees and your customers through your enterprise’s ups and downs.
Circular-economy business model
Every year, Virgin United gives an Impact Award to a successful enterprise that has positive social or environmental effects. Another recycling business took home this prize during the VOOM finale: David Francis’ Paint360, which re-engineers leftover, or “waste,” paint into quality paint that can be used at public facilities and purchased at lower prices.
My daughter, Holly, was on the award’s judging panel, and she and her fellow judges loved Paint360’s circular-economy business model, and how Francis set out to make a clear and measurable impact.
Francis and others like him are truly inspiring people, intent on making a real difference in the world. MacRebur, Bio-bean and Paint360 are three businesses that have this idea at their core, but there are many more out there doing great work.
Do any businesses inspire you? Who would you like to help with your enterprise, and what would you like to accomplish?