My Trip to Detroit with Richard Branson

Last week ended with a trip to Detroit to celebrate Virgin Atlantic’s inaugural flight from Heathrow to Detroit. It has been one of the most surreal and intense few days of my life. Fuelled partly by champagne and jet lag, but mostly the back-to-back incredible experiences, the trip has certainly left a lasting impression on me.

The Startups were joined Julie Deane from The Cambridge Satchel Company, Tom Wood of Rapha and Rob Love of Crowdfunder for our first major activity – a pitch to Richard Branson followed by some mentoring. Much of the advice revolved around PR, how do you get your name out there without spending a fortune on advertising. The next few days would prove something of a master class on this. However, understanding quite how this works without being as famous as Richard Branson and Virgin, was the topic of much of the conversation. Richard gave numerous examples of how wit, timeliness and humour can make any PR stunt fly. The Cambridge Satchel Company is a great example of how catching the attention of the media can rive explosive growth. Julie had a great product and as such had made it successful, at which point it got picked up by the fashion bloggers and has grown to a £10M a year business.

Detroit plane

After some singing and dancing from the cast of Motown the Musical and some more drinks and festivities, we landed. There was a chance for a bit of reflection back at the hotel and some more social events. The next day there were opportunities to explore Detroit. I found myself of a coach tour, which turned out to be fantastic; Detroit is a city on hard times. Its population has declined from 2 million to 600,000 and it is apparent. The wealth and opulence that built the city is evident in the hugely elaborate and extensive skyscrapers and infrastructure. Skyscrapers made of marble, 9 lane carriage ways and garages with turn tables so you don’t have to reverse are just some of the treats Detroit has to offer from its past. Now is a very different story, with high in-occupancy and many derelict buildings. There are however, 600,000 of the most passionate people I have come across, really enthusiastic to turn their city around and create a future for themselves.

 

imageOne such example is the Heidelberg project – a world famous art installation by Tyree Guyton. As a young boy, to stop him falling into the local gangs, Tyree’s family decided he needed a distraction and as such got him interested in collecting discarded items from the community and turning them into collages etc. This passion has lead him to turn a whole street into this ever changing art exhibition, which has had a profound impact. The international attention this has brought from over 140 countries has placed a spotlight on the community – driving away the crime. There has only been one major crime in over 15 years.

 

We then visited the Pitch-to-Rich competition to see some of the local start-ups pitch. And finally had quite a big party – Virgin Atlantic style!

What a trip! I certainly won’t be forgetting it in a hurry! The only other thing I have to say is Thank You very much to Virgin Atlantic for the generosity and hospitality.

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