Richard Branson joins blank-check company craze, plots $460 million IPO

British billionaire Richard Branson is getting in on Wall Street’s hottest trend: creating a company just to buy another one.

The Virgin Group tycoon has founded a blank-check company called VG Acquisition Corp. that plans to raise up to $460 million through an initial public offering, securities records show.

The firm is a special purpose acquisition company, or SPAC, which raises money to buy or merge with another company that takes over its stock listing. It plans to sell 40 million shares on the New York Stock Exchange at up to $10 apiece, with an option to offer up to 6 million shares, according to its Wednesday IPO filing.

VG Acquisition Corp. said it has not selected a company to acquire, but it is looking for targets in the US and Western Europe that operate in one of Virgin Group’s core industries, which include travel, music, media, technology and financial services.

The COVID-19 crisis has created “a rare opportunity to invest in fundamentally strong target businesses at attractive valuations,” the company said in its filing. “We are equally well-positioned to capitalize on secular trends that have accelerated as a result of the pandemic.”

Branson — whose Virgin empire includes an airline, a record label and a commercial spaceflight company — is just the latest business magnate to set up a blank-check firm. Billionaire hedge-fund magnate Bill Ackman raised $4 billion for his SPAC in July, and another emerged this week that insiders say could be targeting Gwyneth Paltrow’s wellness brand Goop.

Overall, there have been more than 50 SPAC offerings so far this year that have raised more than $20 billion, CNBC reported Thursday, citing an August estimate from Goldman Sachs.

SPACs have recently served as a backdoor route to a public offering for big-name companies such as electric-vehicle maker Nikola and online sports-betting firm DraftKings.