Earlier this year we ran a competition among our partners to uncover entrepreneurs actively creating positive social and environmental impact in the world. Virgin StartUp entrepreneur Cemal Ezel was chosen as the winner, scooping a prize trip to Necker Island to attend a Virgin Unite Leadership Gathering.
We caught up with Cemal to hear about his experience as an entrepreneur, learnings from the gathering and plans for the future:
How did it feel to win the competition?
It felt incredible to win the competition, although I was told the news just before going into a dentist’s appointment and my dentist could not understand why I had an uncontrollable smile whilst he was prodding my gums! Jokes aside, starting a new business is difficult, so it was great to be acknowledged for the work we are doing at Change Please.
What are the key learnings you took from the speakers at the gathering and how did they resonate with you in a business context?
My time on Necker Island was filled with inspiration, hope and motivation. The speakers, guests and the amazing Virgin Unite team taught me a great deal. Here’s what I learnt:
- Richard Branson said to us – “Changing the world begins with a small group of people who simply refuse to accept the unacceptable.” Everyone who was part of Disrupting for Good was committed to making a difference and seeing how they could make a change in the world. This taught me to surround Change Please with people who refuse to accept the unacceptable, from our mentors, advisors, funders, to our staff and customers.
- Meeting Anthony Ray Hinton would inspire anyone. For a person to have the courage to be wrongfully imprisoned for 30 years and be on death row, then when released to have his level of forgiveness, is truly inspirational. Mr Hinton taught me the true power of hope and inner strength to overcome all. Also, being able to put standard business struggles into perspective has been hugely beneficial since returning from Necker, and I believe it has made me a stronger person.
- Having spent time with Mr Branson I learnt the importance of vision, communication and listening. Communicating your story whether it is socially or business driven is fundamental.
- The incredible Jean Oelwang hosted the event, and spoke of how a “collaborative purpose” can make a sustainable difference in the world. Uniting people who share a purpose and leading them towards a shared vision – for me – sums up Virgin Unite and is typified by Jean. After being stranded with her in Barbados and her passing me a note just before I was due to speak – offering me courage – also taught me the importance of patience and support. This is something I have installed within my team since returning.
Did the event make you think about your business differently or help with future plans?
The event has completely changed my leadership style and helped me build a stronger and measured vision for Change Please – but most importantly, it has given me the strength to rebound quicker from any challenges we have. I have been able to share this with our baristas who used to be homeless and they have in turn noticed a difference when managing difficult situations.
In terms of the future, one of the other guests on the trip has since helped us win a contract in San Francisco enabling us to launch four coffee segways on the campus of a top three tech company in Silicon Valley. This would not have been possible without attending Virgin Unite’s Disrupting for Good event.
Why is being an entrepreneur with a business that considers people, planet and profit so important?
I believe the time is over for business not to look beyond profit. Through social media and the dawn of the millennials, a company cannot hide behind profit as their only purpose. One of the products we sell is wholesale coffee to corporates and we recently met the head of procurement for a top five consulting company. She told me before 2000, the fundamental focus was on bottom line. Between 2000-2012 it was about carbon footprint, and since 2012 it has been about social footprint – an interest in where their money was going, who it was helping and what difference it was making. I believe every new business should be a social business with environmental and social credentials at their core. This will be the only way our children and grandchildren will value the profitability of an organisation.
Find out more about the Virgin Unite Entrepreneurship team and their work and support where you can. Congratulations Cemal!