Sir Richard Branson Backs Sealed With a (Box)hug and a (mi)Pic

Igor Rubets, 36, founder of Boxhug won the Start Up Award, presented in partnership with Virgin StartUp, for businesses in their first 12 months of trading and Carl Thomas, 30, founder of miPic won the Innovation Award for his successfully-trading, small technology business – with winning pitches at the Branson family home in Oxfordshire.

Igor sealed his pitch by hugging each of the judges sparking a reciprocal group hug from Sir Richard when the winners were announced with Innovation Award winner, Carl Thomas of miPic marking his crowning moment with an on-stage selfie alongside Sir Richard and the panel of judges.

The pair beat more than 400 other businesses to reach the final of the nationwide search for Britain’s best new entrepreneurs and seized the opportunity to share their ideas with Sir Richard and a prestigious judging panel of British entrepreneurs, consisting of Nick Jenkins, founder of Moonpig; Holly Tucker, co-founder of Not on the High Street; Peter Williams, co-founder of Jack Wills and Dina Toki-O, up and coming digital influencer and fashion Youtuber.

An additional ‘People’s Award’ voted for by viewers of the live stream of the event on resulted in a draw between miPic and another Carl Thomas, 31, founder of Audiowings which are smart headphones which wirelessly connect directly to platforms like Spotify.

Boxhug offers storage services by the box – sending, collecting and returning your stuff to your doorstep ensuring people never need to visit a storage unit again and only pay for the space they use.

Boxhug founder Igor Rubets said: “The experience has changed my life. Two weeks ago I couldn’t hold a microphone and now I’ve pitched to Sir Richard. We are going to work even harder to build a brilliant business not just in the UK but across the world that will really help people.”

MiPic is a social platform for people to make money from the photography and images in their smartphones with founder Carl Thomas, originally from Merseyside presented Sir Richard with a framed iPad sketch of the first Virgin Galactic spaceship which he’d bought through the site from a friend. And the volume of traffic to the miPic website when the win was announced temporarily crashed their service.

MiPic founder Carl Thomas said: “It was a fantastic experience and all the working at home in evenings and weekends has all been worth it. Our goal to help people make money from their art and pictures is succeeding. Being judged by one of the most successful entrepreneurs of our generation makes all the risks of starting up alone in business seem worth it. I am proud of miPic’s recognition and want to seize this priceless opportunity.”

Sir Richard Branson, Pioneer-At-Large of Virgin Media Pioneers and founder of the Virgin Group, said: “The success of Virgin has been born out of disrupting the natural order to see what good can be done by doing business differently. This year, Pitch to Rich has showcased even more innovative businesses and it has been wonderful to meet the bright minds behind these ideas. The winners really stood out for their ingenious businesses. I’ve all sorts of stuff lying around which could really benefit from Boxhug’s storage service and miPic is an impressive way of creating art dealers out of all of us. I am delighted to help champion their vision.

Audiowings founder Carl Thomas, joint People’s Award winner, said: “The award is a real validation of what we are doing from people who could potentially be purchasers of our headphones. And it was really good to meet the judges and pick their brains on the challenges they faced and overcame.”

Peter Kelly, Managing Director of Virgin Media Business who presented the People’s Award, said: “Innovation is the lifeblood of UK plc and Pitch to Rich is a great example of how we are fostering new ideas and entrepreneurialism. The calibre of the entries was incredibly high – and demonstrated by the fact we had a tie for the ‘People’s Choice’ award. It’s been a great pleasure to be involved today and I look forward to seeing how our winners evolve and succeed.”