This. So much this. Challenge it and I are almost always on the same page with this stuff.^^^I think you are failing to see all Rutans acomplishments before Branson even came into the picture (and the list is huge - you should look it up). Branson signed on in 2008, 4 years after Rutan designed, built, and successfully won the X-prize with spaceship one in 2004. This project was partially funded by Paul Allen. So who is the common denominator? Burt Rutan and scaled composites. Branson saw a promising project and jumped on board, just as he did in F1 - After Ross Brawn resurrected the Honda team and began showing pace in preseason testing. The car was designed, built, and all windtunnel development etc was done pre-branson cash. Obviously Branson is a sharp businessman, but the projects he aligns himself with were already in progress, by people who brought new ideas and technology into reality before he entered the picture.
Money can advance and refine and more importantly sustain technological breakthroughs, however people who we dub "genius" are the true origins of those breakthroughs, and a lot of them do it before the big players get involved.
And for the record, looking good does count.