Saturday 27 May 2017

The Punt: Branson's Cosmic Girl

Richard Branson
Richard Branson

Fresh from his glitzy appearance at the RDS to launch Virgin Mobile in Ireland, Richard Branson (below) has revealed plans to launch commercial rockets into space using a Boeing 747-400.

Virgin Galactic, the billionaire's space transport company, unveiled the aircraft on Thursday after buying it from Branson's airline.

The decision means Virgin can send objects such as satellites into space from anywhere in the world, rather than being restricted to launchpads - as NASA shuttles are.

"Air launch enables us to provide rapid, responsive service to our satellite customers on a schedule set by their business and operational needs, rather than the constraints of national launch ranges," said George Whitesides, Virgin Galactic chief executive.

Very impressive. But as with his visit to the RDS - to which he arrived on an enormous red lorry - Branson couldn't resist injecting an element of fun into the announcement. He's nicknamed the jet 'Cosmic Girl.'

What next for Topaz chief

What next for Emmet O'Neill, exiting chief executive of the country's biggest fuel retailer Topaz?

O'Neill will step down from the job when the sale of Topaz to Canadian fuel and convenience multinational Couche-Tard completes early next year.

He has held the position since February of this year.

UCD commerce graduate O'Neill, who is in his mid-30s, previously founded and sold dentistry chain Smiles Dental to UK group Oasis Healthcare for €36m.

He is thought to have a stake in Topaz, which sold for a reported €450m.

When asked this week what his plans are post-Topaz, O'Neill said: "I haven't a clue."

He added: "I'll probably take a bit of time off. I might buy a golf resort again and then sell it again."

O'Neill and Brehon Capital Partners bought the five-star hotel and golf resort Mount Juliet in Co Kilkenny for around €15m last year.

His successor at Topaz, which controls about a third of Ireland's fuel forecourts, has not been appointed yet.

"We will be back very shortly in weeks not months to meet the team and decide the plan going forward.

"But no, not at this time," said Couche-Tard's president and chief executive Brian Hannasch.

The head of Couche-Tard's Eastern European business will start working with the Irish team straight away, Hannasch added.

Support from high places

Theo Osborne - the youngest brother of British Chancellor George Osborne - is one of the backers of Huckletree, a new "coworking space" business founded in London by Andrew Lynch, a Dublin entrepreneur and former private equity executive. Osborne's startup investment firm Force Over Mass (FOM) Capital took part in a €3.4m Series A funding round recently completed by Huckletree.

The UK chancellor's brother previously founded a successful online travel business in 2009. He also worked in investment banking and as a property investment executive for the British billionaires Simon and David Reuben.

"Huckletree is a very sound business model founded by two of the most passionate entrepreneurs we have met," he said. "They forge a great balance between real estate expertise, business acumen and interior design and workspace aesthetics."

Lynch (27) is eyeing the success of WeWork, a US-based coworking business that has 30,000 clients in 17 cities and raised €890m in October at a valuation of €9bn.

He and co-founder Gabriela Hersham plan to open further spaces, both in the British capital and other European cities such as Dublin, Paris and Berlin.

"We also see Dublin as a vastly underserved city for coworking. 'Huckletree Dublin' has a nice ring to it," said Lynch.

Irish Independent

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