Meet Virgin StartUp, a nonprofit backed by Richard Branson that increased its audience of entrepreneurs fivefold on Hopin

Meet Virgin StartUp, a nonprofit backed by Richard Branson that increased its audience of entrepreneurs fivefold on Hopin
PLANNING A NEW KIND OF EVENT

Building a virtual support network for entrepreneurs

Virgin StartUp is a nonprofit organization founded in 2013 to help entrepreneurs build better businesses. Through advice and funding, the organization supports founders and offers guidance to early stage companies. As part of this mission, Virgin StartUp runs one of the UK’s largest entrepreneurial mentoring programs, as well as late-stage accelerator programs, and a series of regular events. 

Every month, Virgin StartUp hosts a two-hour MeetUp event that brings its community of founders together from around the world. During each event, attendees can access advice as well as inspiration, and network with a group of founders on a similar business journey. The aim is for attendees to leave feeling connected, supported, and energized.

A key challenge for Virgin StartUp when it started planning to move its MeetUp series to virtual was making sure attendees felt truly engaged, rather than broadcast at. Virgin StartUp chose Hopin because of its ability to provide attendees with an immersive experience that was far superior to outdated webinars and competitor events. The ability to easily create and manage events with a small team and very little technical knowledge was another key selling point. 

As part of its pre-event communication strategy, Virgin StartUp used Hopin’s registration features to set up different ticket types, including priority access for its Funded Club. This is the organization’s group of current mentees undergoing a six-month accelerator program to get the most out of their Virgin StartUp loan. By customizing the look and feel of the event, all touch points were branded to align with the organization, ensuring members of the Funded Club and other attendees felt at home and immediately recognized each MeetUp as part of Virgin StartUp’s wider work.

"We looked very carefully at all the different event platforms that were out there and felt confident that actually Hopin delivered something above and beyond." –Andy Fishburn, Managing Director, Virgin StartUp

"We've been able to bring together founders who would otherwise not get the chance to meet. So, founders from different industries, from all different parts of the globe can come together, which has been incredible."

Andy Fishburn
Managing Director, Virgin StartUp
IT’S SHOWTIME

Instant access to the world's best speakers

The decision to go virtual has given Virgin StartUp access to speakers around the world, including many who wouldn’t have been able to attend a solely in-person event. These speakers have included Simon Sinek, bestselling author and hugely popular inspirational speaker, James Hurst, Global Head of Creative at Pinterest, and Rafe Offer, founder of Sofar Sounds.

"One of the things that Hopin has enabled us to do is go out to any speaker anywhere in the world [...] So where it wouldn't previously have been possible to get them to come to a physical location in West London on a Thursday evening, we're able to go out to some of the biggest and best names around the world and attract them to the event ultimately for the benefit of our founders." –Andy Fishburn, Managing Director, Virgin StartUp

The intimate and interactive format of each MeetUp has proven a fertile ground for some truly personal moments. Tahlia Gray, founder of Sheer Chemistry – a hosiery brand that makes tights for people of color – was able to share some of the unique challenges of being a Black female founder. She received words of wisdom from Simon Sinek, as well as a groundswell of support from fellow entrepreneurs.

Taking full advantage of the virtual format to introduce an element of surprise and delight, entrepreneur Richard Branson – who co-founded Virgin StartUp in 2013 – also made an appearance. Attendees enjoyed a moment of genuine shock as Branson, who was introduced as a mystery founder with 50 years of experience building global businesses, suddenly appeared on camera. Virgin StartUp shared a highlight of the moment on LinkedIn, with the video attracting two million views in two weeks.

After each presentation, founders are invited on stage to ask questions directly of speakers and tap into their wealth of entrepreneurial insight. StreamYard has been key in contributing to this two-way engagement, allowing the Virgin StartUp team to quickly bring questions from the event chat up on screen for all to see.

After the main stage experience, attendees break out into sessions where founders at different stages can connect with one another, and discuss challenges. Often, they can seek direct input from the event's speakers, who join sessions as well. Attendees are also encouraged to use Hopin’s networking features to collaborate with one another directly and discuss opportunities.

A sponsorship deal with sister company, Virgin Money, has allowed Virgin StartUp to deliver its MeetUp series free of charge, ensuring they can reach as many founders as possible. As part of this deal, Virgin StartUp gets its own customized booth in the Expo area, and enjoys prime banner placements on each event’s registration page. Virgin Money’s feedback on their sponsorship package has been overwhelmingly positive – the organization loves the ability to share downloadable materials in its expo booth and offer VIP tickets to its employees and partners.

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The Hopin features that help Virgin StartUp support entrepreneurs at all stages

  • Ticketing & Registration: Virgin StartUp handled all ticketing through Hopin, setting up different ticket types for different parts of its audience. This included a priority access level for founders it has worked with long-term, as well as VIP tickets for sponsor employees and partners. 
  • Customizability: The ability to upload the organization’s branding and visual assets ensures attendees can immediately identify each event as an extension of Virgin StartUp’s wider work.
  • Stages: The MeetUp main stage has hosted huge names in the entrepreneurial community, including a surprise appearance from Richard Branson himself. 
  • Chat: Founders are encouraged to hit the ground running with quick introductions to fire up each MeetUp's event chat. Along with getting the conversation flowing, this helps the Virgin StartUp team identify attendees that are a good fit to take part in the organization's mentorship program.
  • Sessions: After the key speakers have finished, founders can break out into individual sessions and swap stories of business challenges. Speakers join these sessions to chat directly with attendees and offer further insight. 
  • Integrations: Virgin StartUp used Hopin’s Mailchimp integration to leverage the huge marketing potential of its newsletter, which has 190k subscribers. The integration allowed the nonprofit to easily track how many sign ups its email marketing has driven as well as add to the database from its event attendees.
  • Live streaming: Hopin’s StreamYard studio has created a seamless backstage experience for Virgin StartUp's speakers. The ability to add branded graphics, poll results, and chat contributions to the live stream feed has also helped encourage discussion and engagement.  

"It’s not about just sitting there and watching things passively being broadcast at. It’s actually feeling like you’re a part of something that’s live – that you’re taking part in and contributing to."

Andy Fishburn
Managing Director, Virgin StartUp
HOW IT TURNED OUT

Record-breaking results with Hopin

Since moving MeetUp onto Hopin, Virgin StartUp has grown its audience exponentially. Over 3,000 people attended its Simon Sinek event, which marks a 2,900% increase from its previous physical venue that was limited to only 100 attendees. On average, Virgin StartUp has welcomed 500 entrepreneurs to each MeetUp event. The increased size of Virgin StartUp’s audience hasn’t led to any drop off in quality either – attendees are staying engaged for the full two hours of each event, and the MeetUp series has an incredible average NPS of 9.3. 

The organization has also been able to invite a more diverse set of speakers than ever before, hosting founders from around the world. These new connections have expanded Virgin StartUp’s community of entrepreneurs, with a number of speakers subsequently signing up to become mentors. Ultimately, Virgin StartUp’s pivot to virtual has helped its community of entrepreneurs better scale their companies and forge invaluable business relationships. 

The organization has also repurposed virtual MeetUp content in a way it couldn’t previously with solely in-person events. Each MeetUp is recorded and turned into a podcast, which has helped to massively amplify the reach of event content. MeetUp footage has also been a key component of the organization’s marketing, with video edits shared across social media and added to a growing archive of advice for founders. 

To build on this success, Virgin StartUp is now exploring the potential of hosting hybrid events using Hopin’s on-site capabilities.

"As we think about our event strategy for next year and beyond, I think what’s really exciting is that Hopin gives us the ability and the flexibility to design in-person events, hybrid events, or digital-first events. And we’ve really got the flexibility there to design events that are right for our founders at that point in time." –Andy Fishburn, Managing Director, Virgin StartUp

9.3

Average attendee NPS

500

Average attendees

5x

Attendees vs in-person events

1 Hour 47 minutes

average attendance duration

"The reception to the MeetUp events that we've been delivering through Hopin has been universally positive. First and foremost, for the founders that are attending, it's a unique event experience and actually they get out of it far more than they would've had we been delivering the same event [solely] in person."

Andy Fishburn
Managing Director, Virgin StartUp

Lots of virtual audience buzz

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