Sir Richard Branson is searching for startups to fast track in his new accelerator programme and help revamp British rail.
The programme, called Platform-X, is a partnership between Virgin Trains and Virgin's entrepreneurial arm Virgin StartUp and wants budding startups to help revolutionise train travel. Successful firms will be invited to test their ideas with in-market trials, which could then lead to a partnership with Virgin Trains.
The two Virgin firms will identify startups with a series of four "real innovation challenges" to win the chance to take part in the programme and those that are successful will have access to funding for in-market trials through the £25m Virgin Trains East Coast Innovation Fund, as well as mentoring from the senior management team at Virgin Trains on the East Coast.
Startups have until the 11 June to apply and can do so through the Platform-X website, with ideas of a product or service that will help address either making sure customers have a great journey "to and from the train and beyond", or giving Virgin Trains more insight into their customers and what they're interested in.
Virgin also wants startups that can demonstrate how innovation can help Virgin Trains tackle operational challenges when disruption hits, and show how ideas that are already helping the lives of customers could be applied to the rail industry. In return, startups will be offered the chance to scale their business.
Branson, the founder of the Virgin Group:
Business is at its best when it’s pushing boundaries and disrupting the status quo. We are all capable of innovating, and should be encouraged to do so whenever possible. Even the most simple ideas can revolutionise standards, I’m excited to see what solutions are put forward to our teams.
Those shortlisted will be invited to pitch their ideas on 21 June and the programme will start on 3 July.
It is the latest established company looking to accelerator programmes to help up its innovation credentials. Last month, British Airways owner IAG announced plans to invest in two startups that had taken part in its global accelerator programme Hangar 51 at the end of last year.
And last week, Ikea launched its first accelerator, starting the hunt for 10 businesses to join its new co-working space in Sweden.