Though Sir Richard Branson clowned from the get-go, BIO CEO Jim Greenwood earned the first great laugh from the BIO 2014 keynote luncheon audience. Having detailed Branson’s swashbuckling entrepreneurship style (more than 400 companies under his Virgin umbrella), as well as adventures attempting world-firsts crossing oceans in boats and balloons, he asked his keynote guest why he’d never started a biotech firm:
“Just never had the guts, huh?” challenged Greenwood.
Famous for starting a successful music label, airlines, leisure and hospitality, telecommunications, and space tourism, Branson revealed his charitable inclinations, many of which do deal in biology-related fields.
This includes an effort to get parents of newborns to collect umbilical cord blood samples, banking one half for possible future use for their own child and the other for charitable use. The banking procedure stores this stem-cell rich blood for future use as a treatment against certain disease, both for the infant, as well as relatives and others for whom the blood is a good match.
“This is particularly important for underrepresented ethnic groups, including those in the Middle-East” said Branson.
He also shared a video showcasing Virgin Unite, his charitable foundation, which he says incubates new approaches to charitable leadership from a business perspective. Virgin Unite endeavors include The Elders (co-founded with Peter Gabriel to engage experienced international statespeople to help solve world issues), the Carbon War Room (engaging business leaders in addressing global warming), and The B Team (champions capitalism as a driving force for social, environmental and economic benefit).
As his presentation wrapped, Branson expressed his excitement at being invited to address the BIO convention, lauding those involved in biosciences and biotech as being able to “…absolutely transform the world.”
“Our use of energy is causing irreparable damage,” he said. “You scientists and technologists are the ones who will come up with clean fuels that also don’t cut into our own food supply.”
He has pledged that his own airlines will use only clean-burning fuels by 2020, backing that claim in 2008 by flying the first commercial flight partially powered by biofuel.
“There is no reason to set up a company unless you’re going to innovate,” he told the BIO crowd.