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North East start-ups in Google+ hangout with Sir Richard Branson


  • The start-ups quizzed business gurus Sir Richard Branson and Paypal founder Elon Musk
  • A global audience of 15,000 tuned in live

Three of the region’s newest entrepreneurs were given the opportunity of a lifetime at Virgin Money’s Gosforth office yesterday as they quizzed two world-renowned entrepreneurs - Sir Richard Branson and Elon Musk - on their experiences in business.

The live Google+ Hangout on Air was the brainchild of Virgin Unite, Virgin Group’s not-for-profit foundation, which supports the group’s numerous enterprise programmes, including the Start-Up Loans scheme in the North East and Cumbria. This was the first in a series of events run in partnership with Google, the multinational cloud computing, Internet search and advertising technologies corporation.

The businesses taking part, all of which have been supported by the North East and Cumbria’s Start-Up Loans scheme, were Whitley Bay’s Jam Jar Cinema, Newcastle health and fitness company Optimal You, and the No1 training academy @ Hair and Beauty by Claire H in Gateshead.

Jam Jar Cinema's Dan Ellis, Niyc Pidgeon of Optimal You and Claire Hall, owver of the No1 training academy with Virgin Money's Pete Wood

Streamed live via Google, an informal chat kicked off the event, which was one of the most successful Hangouts on Air in the history of the platform. Sir Richard and Elon answered a series of questions about different aspects of business and entrepreneurship. Following this, budding entrepreneurs from around the world, including Columbia, South Africa and the Caribbean, posed their own questions to the pair.

Dan Ellis, Chairman at Jam Jar Cinema said: “Speaking with Sir Richard was a dream come true and he really made us feel at ease. It was reassuring to hear that he was once exactly where we are, just starting out with an idea, a little bit of financial support and a lot of drive.”

Claire Hall, 28, added: “It was really interesting to hear not only from Sir Richard and Elon, but also from other start-ups from around the world.”

Niyc Pidgeon, 25, of Optimal You said: “It was such an incredible opportunity to see and hear both Sir Richard and Elon speak about their own successes in business. I was lucky enough to be able to ask a question about overcoming challenges, which is central to my business.”

Pete Wood, Virgin Money’s Head of Social Enterprise Projects, hosted the event in Gosforth. He said: “We are delighted to be able to support driven young business minds in new and innovative ways, such as taking part in this special event. We hope this will be the first of many.”

The Start-Up Loans scheme in the North East and Cumbria is delivered through a consortium including Virgin Money, Virgin Unite, The Northern Rock Foundation (NRF) and Project North East (PNE) – with PNE being the consortium partner responsible for arranging and making the loan.

The scheme continues to open doors for entrepreneurs aged 18 to 30 who have a great business idea. With funding still available to start-ups in the North East and Cumbria during 2013, successful applicants can benefit from Virgin Money’s mentoring support and Project North East’s many years’ working specifically with young business people.

Watch and share the playback via at

To find out more about the Start-Up Loans scheme in the North East and how to apply, young entrepreneurs should visit

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Virgin Money Press Office
Tel: 0191 279 4676

Notes to Editors

The Start-Up Loans scheme for young entrepreneurs was formally launched at Virgin Money’s Gosforth headquarters on Tuesday 20 November 2012.

Virgin Money has partnered with Virgin Unite, The Northern Rock Foundation (NRF) and Project North East (PNE) to form a consortium in the delivery of ‘Start-Up Loans’ – with PNE being the consortium partner responsible for arranging and making the loan.

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), through Start-Up Loans, is providing funding to be offered in the form of small business start-up loans in the North East and Cumbria. The initiative is aimed at young entrepreneurs between 18 and 30 years of age. Loan sizes are between £250 and £25,000, with an average of around £5,000.

The consortium also provides a training, mentoring and engagement programme, to enable unemployed young people and young people from the region’s deprived areas to learn how to run a business and to find out more about the Start-Up Loans programme.

PNE is regulated under the consumer credit act and is responsible for making the loans and administering the full lending process. PNE has nearly thirty years experience of successfully undertaking this type of work in the region, partnering organisations such as the Sainsbury family trusts and Royal Dutch Shell. More information about PNE can be found at and information on start-up loans can be found at

Further information about the start-ups that took part:

Optimal You: Niyc Pidgeon, 25, from Newcastle upon Tyne runs Optimal You, which is a personal training and nutritional supplements brand. She offers one to one training, boot camps, meal plans, nutritional advice and innovative green juice supplements based on a background of Positive Psychology.

Jam Jar Cinema: Dan Ellis, 24, is bringing the magic of cinema back to the seaside town of Whitley Bay in North Tyneside. The town has been without a cinema for some time and Dan, along with his business partners, are running the 42-seat premises as a community enterprise, with local volunteers a big part of their team.

the No1 training academy Ltd @ Hair and Beauty by Claire H: Claire Hall, 28, is an experienced beautician and hair stylist who has been running her own salon in Gateshead, Tyne and Wear, for six years. She has now turned her attention to teaching, having become a qualified instructor and has adapted her premises to add some training rooms used solely for teaching. Her hair and beauty training academy will open in September, offering thorough training in a variety of treatments and techniques.