A good brew: startup training homeless people into baristas wins award in Amsterdam

Will.i.am at the award ceremony Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images for Chivas Brothers
Will.i.am at the awards  Photo: Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images for Chivas Regal

A start-up company that wants to solve homelessness by training people to work as baristas won a $350,000 award in Amsterdam on Thursday night.

Change Please, a London-based firm which pledges to train, help house and pay homeless people a ‘living wage’, won the Chivas Venture 2018 prize. The pitching process and ceremony was held at The Next Web Conference for start-ups, in Amsterdam’s Westerpark, and judges included the Black Eyed Peas pop star and actor Will.i.am.

Cemal Ezel, who founded Change Please after being inspired by a tea shop run by a deaf woman in Vietnam, said Will.i.am has now offered to help with business connections in Los Angeles.

‘The margins on a cup of coffee are huge,’ he told DutchNews.nl. ‘Homelessness is getting worse, and we are using that additional margin for good.’

His company, which has 22 outlets in the UK, sells its own fair-trade roasted coffee beans in 375 British stores, and serves businesses such as PWC, is aiming to launch in the United States this year and franchise its idea across the UK and America. He claims that 82% of the people he has helped still work for his business, or have a job, a year later.

The awards also gave prizes of $200,000 to Mestic, a Dutch company that aims to make fibre from manure waste, and $100,000 to the Spanish BraiBook, an invention to translate text into braille and audio instantly. BraiBook also won the audience-voted award of $50,000.

Waterless toilet

Other finalists, also awarded $50,000, were change: WATER Labs, which has developed a waterless toilet for refugee camps and cities without sewage infrastructure, and The Picha Project, which provides employment for refugees in Malaysia by linking home cooks with caterers, companies and students who want to buy a meal.

‘Profit and positive social impact can co-exist,’ said Will.i.am, in a speech at the event. ‘Solving the challenges is good business. Uber helped solve racial profiling problems when [cabs] wouldn’t stop for a customer for fear of being robbed. The powers that be don’t want to see change happen. It is happening, but it all starts with solving a problem in society and being fearless.’

The Chivas Venture has given $3million to startups – taking no equity – since starting the annual competition in 2014, and Pernod Ricard chairman and chief executive Alexandre Ricard added: ‘It brings together entrepreneurs and innovators who are having a real impact on the world and changing the way we do business.’

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