A Startup Founder's Incredible 3-Day Adventure To Africa With Billionaire Richard Branson

Richard Branson Meets Millipede raise5 africa trip

Photo: Shayan Nahrvar/Raise5

When Virgin Group chairman Sir Richard Branson asked entrepreneurs to send him world-changing business ideas, a four-person startup in Chicago jumped at the chance.Michael Tang’s company, Raise5, was only a few months old then. It is an online platform where people can buy and sell services, kind of like Craigslist, that launched in February 2012. But instead of keeping the payments, the service providers on Raise5 donate the money to their favourite charities. 

“We help people who wouldn’t normally be donating to give money to causes,” Raise5 tells Business Insider.

Tang and his partners, Shayan Nahrvar, Hassan Hassan and Jesse D’Andrade beat out 500 other applicants and won a trip to South Africa with Branson himself.

“Raise5 is simple, entrepreneurial and it works. It stood out to me as a perfect example of how anyone can think differently to affect change,” Branson has said of their startup.

Nahrvar, Raise5’s Chief Development Officer, left on March 1 for Africa and visited two places, Johannesburg and Ulusaba. Branson’s Virgin Unites team does a lot of work with emerging entrepreneurs there.

He documented the experience and shared it all with Business Insider.

Fresh off the plane from Chicago! At London's Heathrow Airport in the Virgin Terminal. Next stop: South Africa.

Landed in Johannesburg at a small airport. It was not your typical airport, it had a very homey cafe atmosphere.

We took a charter flight from the airport to Sir Richard Branson's private game reserve Ulusaba.

A welcome party greeted us at the landing strip in Ulusaba – a nice surprise.

A look inside my suite at Richard's estate in Ulusaba. We were living large.

The beautiful view from the deck offered a great vantage point for reflection.

I first met Richard at the Bhubezi Community Centre. Once a year The Starkey Foundation comes to this Virgin Unite-supported centre and they spend time helping provide hearing aids to around 300 people who have lost their hearing. It was an emotional and inspiring experience to see lives being transformed right in front of me.

After visiting the Bhubezi Healthcare Clinic, we embarked on a game drive to see the wildlife and natural beauty of Ulusaba. It wasn't hard to spot this tall giraffe.

Branson's wildside. That's a millipede on his hand.

We saw a lot of lion cubs.

Richard and I on safari admiring and discussing nature.

Dinner at the end of the day with Sir Richard and the group

The morning after our safari we met for breakfast served at Richard's game reserve. Fresh juice and wildebeest sausage were on the menu.

I witnessed the development of a new school built by Pride n' Purpose, an organisation supported by Virgin Unite. I skipped rope with some of the children.

Surrounded by fire, nature and indigenous music we indulged in a traditional South African dinner.

An aerial view from our plane back go Johannesburg for the second leg of our trip.

Branson speaking on a panel at the Global Success Summit.

Our group at Mandoziz, a restaurant owned and operated by a Branson Centre entrepreneur.

Partaking in some fine dining at Mandoziz.

Posing in front of the Branson Centre of Entrepreneurship where I was invited to judge and mentor local entrepreneurs.

Listening to an entrepreneur's pitch - I was honored to be invited into this discussion.

In the field meeting another Branson Centre Entrepreneur, Aaron Langa, of AML Bamboo Products. He repurposes scrap materials into well-crafted baskets.

I had the opportunity to visit, Karabo, at the Institute for Human Evolution at Wits University. At 2.5-million-years, Karabo is one of the oldest known hominids.

A reconstruction of Karabo...man, I thought he'd be taller!

One of my last views from my trip - a courtyard below my hotel balcony.

My final shot to conclude an incredible journey.

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