Above: Richard Reed, Sir Richard Branson, James Caan and Zoe Jackson at the launch of Virgin Startup

On Thursday I was down at Boxpark in Shoreditch for Virgin photographing the launch of Virgin StartUp. It’s a new none-profit company designed to benefit young entrepreneurs by providing not just a loan to get their company off the ground, but also mentorship to help them build sustainability into the business. For the launch Sir Tom Shebbeare, Chairman of Virgin StartUp, hosted a panel featuring Sir Richard Branson, James Caan, Richard Reed (ex-Virgin staffer who co-founded Innocent Drinks), Zoe Jackson (of performing arts company Living The Dream) and Kevin Horne (Chairman of the Cavendish Consortium).

As with my previous shoots for Virgin I was there to photography proceedings with a reportage eye, and so I arrived bright and early at 8am to start photographing the setup. Amongst the invitees were the press and media, but also a lot of both financiers and budding entrepreneurs, some of whom set up small stands in spaces around Boxpark to demonstrate their products.

Sir Richard himself quietly arrived around 8:30 and got comfortable chatting with Richard Reed and James Caan over coffee at a peaceful cafe down the other end of the complex, away from the crowds. While Richard was offering to buy me a coffee I snapped a shot over the counter that unfortunately came out massively underexposed due to the bright light behind him, although when I got it home I decided it was going to be one of those happy accidents that becomes one of my favourite shots.

And then we were into the panel itself. Each had something to say about why they’re involved in the startup scheme, and why it’s as good a time as any to set up a new business, which is where Virgin Startups comes in, of course! I’m in the process of taking my photography business up a notch but while I’m too old for this scheme, listening to their wise, encouraging words was inspirational.

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Richard Reed in particular was absolutely adamant that the only better time than today to set up a company would be tomorrow, while James Caan made it very clear that being able to pay yourself a wage from the business is absolutely critical – if it’s not sustaining you, and also sustainable as a business itself, it’s not going to work. And that’s why one of the key elements of Virgin Startups is the provision of a mentor to advise you, as well as a loan.

After the panel had spoken and taken some questions from the audience, Sir Richard was whisked away to do some media interviews in a private space downstairs. Outside in the street was quite the scrum of folk peering through the window of the small pop-up shop, and occasionally some would talk their way in for a quick chat with the man himself, including a trio of boys from Plymouth who run a small company called Thinkspace, and a blogger who asks people to empty their pockets for a photo and a chat about themselves.

Sadly he doesn’t call the feature ‘What Has It Got In It’s Pocketses?’ – a missed opportunity for an old Hobbit fan like me (no, not the terrible movie!), but at least now we know what Sir Richard Branson keeps in his pocketses…

Finally we all took a trip to the 22nd floor of the incredible Willis Building in the centre of London, for a board meeting with all the financiers who are providing the loan, and then Richard was off to the Maldives for a meeting of the Ocean Elders. I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again – the man simply does not stop for breath.

Thanks for reading! You can find out more about my event photography here.

Technical notes

I shot almost all of these on my Nikon D700 with either my 24-70mm f/2.8, or my 70-200mm f/2.8 lens. I had my Fujifilm X100S with me for some shots where I either didn’t want to draw too much attention, or didn’t have time to swing lenses out. I shot in RAW and did a bit of work correcting for exposure during the panel when everyone’s cameras were thrown by the bright light directly behind them, but for most of that part of the shoot I switched to centre-spot metering and locked exposure on the panel’s faces before reframing, which worked a treat.