Richard Branson’s latest Virgin venture wants your business

Mary Wittenberg and Richard Branson of Virgin Sport
Virgin Sport

Billionaire Sir Richard Branson is best-known for his multiple Virgin-branded businesses and media-friendly attitude, sharing stories of freezing his sperm, pictures of his vacation with the Obamas and a poem for entrepreneurs on his blog over the past month.

He's also known for his sporting challenges – from his world record-setting Atlantic hot air balloon crossing in 1987 to the Virgin Strive series of triathlons in Italy last September. So it's fitting that his latest venture is Virgin Sport, festival-style events that will take place in the U.K. and U.S. this year.

The two-year-old company will run its first event in London's Hackney later this month, and the business is now ready to do deals with sponsors, global chief executive Mary Wittenberg told CNBC by phone.

Mary Wittenberg and Richard Branson of Virgin Sport
Virgin Sport

"Sponsors [often] get involved in something that already fully exists, so [our] partners have a great chance to start out. So we are just getting started. We will go fewer rather than more partners and try and integrate partners across our events, our content and eventually our community," she said.

A footwear and apparel sponsor will be announced soon, and Wittenberg is also looking for a director of business development who will be responsible for finding sponsors, someone who is "all-in on life," according to a job ad posted online. But she wanted to establish the brand before looking for partners, she added.

"At this early stage, we have not focused on selling yet very much at all, because at this early stage, who you partner with says as much about you, in some cases as who you are. And before selling to partners we wanted to be up and running with our proposition."

The aim with Virgin Sport is to reach the sweet spot between more extreme challenges such as Tough Mudder, and lighter "fun run" style events, Wittenberg said. Her brief from Branson was simply to "get millions of people moving," and the Hackney festival will have half marathon and 5.5k options, and VIP "fit front row" upgrades. Other London events will follow, and a San Francisco event will be held in October.

"Part of our whole spirited message is helping people realize that sport is for everybody… and we know it can be intimidating to a lot of people, so we want to break that barrier of intimidation and encourage people to come out and also to challenge themselves," Wittenberg said.

Wittenberg – who previously headed New York Road Runners - has been building her team in London and New York, with 20 employees to date, and wants to eventually expand to other parts of the world.

Last month, Richard Branson mentioned the new venture in a blog post on the news that the Virgin America name would be retired by owner Alaska Airlines around 2019.

"As an entrepreneur's brand, Virgin is always starting new businesses. And we will not stop," he wrote.

Other new ventures include cruise company Virgin Voyages, a second Virgin Hotel in San Francisco, and Virgin Orbit, a company that puts small satellites into space.

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