We recently ran a competition with our partners to celebrate entrepreneurs with social and environmental impact. All entrants were in the running to win a trip to Necker Island to take part in Virgin Unite’s ‘Disrupting for Good’ Leadership Gathering at the end of the month.

This event brings together world-class speakers, influencers and business people for thought-provoking discussions to create a better world, as well as plenty of time to relax and enjoy Necker and fun activities. We were blown away by the high standard of entries and we’re pleased to announce that the winner was Virgin Start-Up entrepreneur, Cemal Ezel.

Virgin Unite, Virgin StartUp, Change Please, Coffee, Cemal

Cemal looked set for a career in commodity trading, eager to pay back his parents who made huge sacrifices to pay for their children’s private education, but he became disillusioned with market ethics after a work trip to Tanzania. 

Virgin Unite, Virgin StartUp, Change Please, Coffee, Cemal

He was inspired to make a difference as a socially good entrepreneur while travelling in Vietnam and visiting a silent tea house run by deaf and mute women. It was here he realized business could be good and give back at the same time as making money. He quit his job, enrolled on an entrepreneurship course and co-founded the Old Spike Roastery in London. This café and sustainable coffee wholesaler purchases direct trade coffee from farmers in Tanzania giving jobs to landmine victims and from a source in Peru supporting domestic abuse survivors.

He was passionate about UK homelessness and decided to find an alternative solution to temporary housing and launched Change Please, a social enterprise that finds exceptional homeless people and trains them to be baristas. The enterprise buys coffee from the Old Spike Roastery and sells from coffee carts powered by solar or ecotricity around London. All coffee grounds are converted into bio-fuel pellets. 

Homelessness charities Crisis and Big Issue make referrals to Change Please and those that make it through a one-month training course in association with the Big Issue are then employed. At Change Please they are offered the London Living Wage, housing and a bank account and opportunities for onwards employment after six months with Pret A Manger and the Restaurant Group.

 The enterprise buys coffee from the Old Spike Roastery and sells from coffee carts powered by solar or ecotricity around London. All coffee grounds are converted into bio-fuel pellets. 

In four months, there are eight mobile coffee vans and 12 people have been employed, of which four have moved on to other employment or further education. Two former employees have set up their own businesses and employed other homeless people. One member of staff, Liam, is no longer sleeping on London buses and trains new staff to be baristas. Another has been promoted to head of sales. 

Virgin Unite, Virgin StartUp, Change Please, Coffee, Cemal

Cemal has plans to scale across the UK and franchise the brand internationally. He says: “We know we can fix homelessness through entrepreneurship as our model is working. We are looking to grow across the UK and we’ve already had international approaches from Australia and the US. We are providing direction for people who are ready to come out of homelessness and often all they need is a confidence boost. Success to us would be sharing our business model so others can replicate it to help as many as possible.”

Cemal will be writing up his experiences on Necker and we will also be featuring the runners up, so keep watching! Also, be sure to follow Change Please on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter for regular updates. 

To learn more about Virgin Unite entrepreneurs visit the website or to apply for a business start up loan with visit the Virgin Start-Up website. 

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