Richard Branson Challenges Entrepreneurs To Be A 'Force For Good'

With much of his attention focused on space exploration these days, Sir Richard Branson's ambitions literally know no boundaries. But he is also doing his part to help make life on this planet a little better.

On Jan. 25, the globetrotting founder of Virgin and member of the AOL Small Business Board of Directors made a stop in Irvine, Calif., for a candid conversation about entrepreneurs' role in furthering world peace and a charity benefit that drew VIPs from the worlds of business and philanthropy.

The evening began at the University of California at Irvine, where Branson shared personal anecdotes about his entrepreneurial journey, in a conversation moderated by Jerry Murdock, the managing director of Insight Venture Partners and a board member at the Aspen Institute and the Santa Fe Institute.

Following the talk, guests headed over to the nearby Center for Living Peace for a reception and charity auction. Rob Dyrdek, a professional skateboarder, serial entrepreneur and fellow member of the Board of Directors, joined Branson at the event and donated a birthday party at the "Fantasy Factory" -- his downtown Los Angeles superoffice and skate park that serves as the backdrop for his popular MTV reality series -- which helped raise more than $250,000 for Virgin Unite over the course of the night.

Dressed as a "pirate for peace," Branson advised entrepreneurs to approach business with a greater purpose. "I think they just need to change their way of thinking as to running their businesses, make them a force for good, not just a force to make money," Branson said in an interview. "If they think like that and they empower all their staff to think like that, they can make a massive difference."

For Dyrdek, who oversees more than a dozen business ventures and a foundation of his own, which builds "Safe Spot Skate Spots" for kids, the evening was a chance to connect with one of his longtime entrepreneurial heroes.

"It was quite inspiring, to say the least," Dyrdek said following the event. "I was able to relay to him that his principle and school of thought and his entrepreneurial spirit has inspired me. And, in turn, I was inspired by his incredible outfit."

In true Branson fashion, the frequent flier headed off to South Africa following the event, for a fashion show and fundraiser for Lesego Malatsi, an entrepreneur at the Branson Centre of Entrepreneurship in Johannesburg.

The original version of this article appeared on AOL Small Business on 2/2/11.