Most entrepreneurs can only dream of meeting a legendary CEO like Sir Richard Branson, the founder of the Virgin Group who is willing to spend time mentoring them — and their big idea. For one lucky individual, this will soon become a reality, thanks to a charity auction taking place in a few weeks.
The second annual Entrepreneur Auction is being run by Charitybuzz.com, an online charity auction platform, Oct. 25 through Nov. 15. Bidders can visit the site for the chance to meet with Branson or other celebrities that are offering one-on-one meetings and business experiences to raise money for charities of their choice. Other celebrities participating include Shark Tank's Kevin O'Leary and Guy Kawasaki, the former chief evangelist of Apple.
Bidders will be offered an array of experiences that include mentorships, power lunches, internships, office tours, golf outings and trips. Last year Charitybuzz's auction raised nearly $1 million for charity. Highlights included a round of golf with Michael Bloomberg, which sold for $52,000 to benefit the Humane Society; a private dinner with Citigroup CEO Michael Corbat, which sold for $23,250 to benefit the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation; and a meeting with Bill Maris, then president and CEO of Google Ventures, which sold for $56,000 to benefit the Rock School Scholarship Fund.
Charitybuzz is part of Todd Wagner's Charity Network — a coalition of digital fundraising platforms for charitable giving. The network was launched in March, and its campaigns are amplified by a network of syndicated partners that include Twitter, Facebook, Sinclair Broadcasting Group, Virgin America Airlines and a roster of other organizations.
Wagner, a billionaire who co-founded Broadcast.com and now co-owns 2929 Entertainment with Mark Cuban, has a history of varied philanthropic endeavors. He launched the Todd Wagner Foundation in 2001, which has sponsored such programs as MIRACLES, to help inner-city kids learn critical technology skills; and the Minority Technology Fund, which provides funding and resources to minority-owned tech businesses.
"My goal is to reinvent the traditional charitable-giving model," Wagner said. "We need to move it to the digital realm. Right now only 6 percent of charitable giving is done online. I am hoping our partners will help us grow campaigns and reach global donors online and on TV."
As the venture philanthropist explained, hundreds of celebrity CEOs and entertainers have volunteered to participate in the Charity Network's various campaigns. Besides Charitybuzz, the network is the parent company for Prizeo, a celebrity crowdfunding site that raises money for charity through sweepstakes and experiences, and Chideo, a charity broadcast network that works with celebrity ambassadors.
According to Ben Erwin, vice president of business development for the Charity Network, the idea for the auction came after a watershed moment when a campaign for a cup of coffee with Tim Cook raised $650,000 in a three-week bidding auction three years ago. Charitybuzz realized there was strong demand for business experiences with iconic business leaders.
"It's a chance to pitch a business idea to an influential CEO and build a relationship that can open doors of opportunity," Erwin said. "At the same time, you are supporting a cause near and dear to his or her heart. That automatically gives you a leg up."
While details of the Branson experience have not been finalized, in the past he has offered a meeting and time on his private island in the Caribbean — even a chance to play golf with pros and his close friends. This year proceeds will go to the National Tennis Foundation.