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Could your company help shape the future of rail travel? That’s the question Virgin Trains and Virgin StartUp are asking businesses across the world and are seeking innovative companies for the chance to scale their business, fast-track procurement and gain potential access to Virgin Train’s £25m innovation fund.

The programme, called Platform-X, is open for applications now, until 28th May. Virgin Trains is on a mission to solve key rail challenges and focused on finding innovative companies with established solutions to come forward if they think they have what it takes to transform the future of rail travel across the following areas:

Challenge 1: Improving the “End-to-End” journeys of passengers – providing solutions that will transform the rail journeys of Virgin Trains customers; improving the travelling experience from start to finish.

Challenge 2: Getting passengers “All On Board” the digital grid – providing solutions that can help Virgin Trains grow its passenger database, improve online customer experience and increase all aspects of customer engagement.

Challenge 3: Improving the “Behind the Scenes” decision making processes – including the way Virgin Trains manages disruption and communications with staff, providing solutions that can transform internal processes, drive operational efficiency and improve the customer experience.

Challenge 4: “Wildcard” entries – from existing solutions that are transforming the customer experience and novel innovations that could be applied to the rail industry.

Programme details

The companies selected to join Platform-X will take part in an intensive five-week programme onsite at the train network’s offices in King’s Cross, London. This will focus on enabling these businesses to scale while working closely with first-class mentors including senior executives from Virgin Trains and the Virgin Group, industry experts and seasoned entrepreneurs.

Breaking from industry norms, entrepreneurs selected onto the programme don’t need to give up equity in their business. Meaning not only is this an opportunity to find, build and launch solutions to overcome innovation gaps, but also a chance to help startups thrive into scaleups.

Virgin Trains is committed to delivering a high-speed, high-frequency service – offering shorter journey times and excellent customer service. £140m is being invested on the East Coast route and a further £21m has already been invested to completely revamp the existing fleet of trains.

Sir Richard Branson Virgin
Sir Richard Branson

Sir Richard Branson, Virgin Group founder, has dubbed Platform-X: “A special startup accelerator on a mission to improve train travel,” adding “At Virgin, we know that the best way to stay relevant is to embrace new ideas and technology. Platform-X is not only trying to find the best startups to work with, but is also providing a platform to help them grow and flourish.”

Warrick Dent, director of safety and operations for Virgin Trains on the east coast, said: “As part of the Virgin Group, we are always on the lookout for ways to do things differently. Platform-X gives us a great opportunity to invite ideas from technologists and entrepreneurs about how we could transform rail journeys in the future and, in return, provides startups with an opportunity to scale their business.”

Virgin StartUp

To support them with their quest to find brightest and boldest companies, Virgin Trains has partnered with Virgin StartUp. As the not-for-profit arm spearheading the Virgin group’s entrepreneurship activity, Virgin StartUp plays a key role in supporting companies across the Virgin group with their entrepreneurial ambitions.

The company, founded in 2013, has so far provided more than £20m in funding to over 1,800 entrepreneurs across England and Scotland. Using the Virgin group’s long history of starting and operating successful businesses, it provides companies with an in-depth understanding of the startup ecosystem.

Speaking about Virgin StartUp’s involvement in the project, Mei Shui, Virgin StartUp MD said: “Virgin has a history of empowering and supporting those looking to create positive disruptive change. The apple hasn’t fallen far from the tree where Virgin StartUp is concerned; we’ve so far supported over 1,800 entrepreneurs and from our experience this community is one of the most vibrant in the business world.”

Applicant criteria

Platform-X is looking for growth-stage startups that are ready to bolster their business with experience and new customers; with applicants being scored across a number of different areas including:

  • Quality of concept: how does it address key challenges in the rail industry?
  • Commercial potential: how much demand is there for this product or service?
  • Impact on Virgin Trains: the impact this could have on solving challenges specific to Virgin Trains and improving its offering to customers.
  • Adaptability: how quickly would the team be able to integrate their solution into Virgin Trains’ business?
  • Current team structure: what experience does the team have that will help them in the delivery of this project?
  • Suitability for the programme: what benefits would the entrant get out of participating in the programme and partnering with Virgin Trains?

Once applications close on the 28th May, entries will be shortlisted and startups will be invited to pitch their ideas in June to secure their place on the programme, which will start on 3rd July. In August, selected startups will be invited to test their ideas with in-market trials, which could pave the way for a future partnership with Virgin trains.

If you think your company has what it takes to transform the future of rail travel you can read more about, and apply for, Platform-X here.