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Changing the world, one cup of coffee at a time

Meet the award-winning social entrepreneur, Cemal Ezel founder of Change Please.

Change Please founder Cemal Ezel

Since 2015, Change Please has been the coffee that gives back. There are now more than 64 sites in the UK and over 300 sites in 8 countries globally, and their coffee doesn’t just do good, it tastes great too, winning multiple awards including 9 ‘Great Taste Awards’.

Cemal Ezel was in his late twenties and working as a City trader when he had the revelation that there might be more to success than just earning a good wage. 

No stranger to entrepreneurship, Cemal had started his first business straight out of university, but a chance encounter with a stranger on a bus in Vietnam gave him food for thought about where his next opportunity lay. 

He considered what positive impact he was having on the world at that time, so when he returned to London and saw a rough sleeper with a notice asking for change and a Banksy artwork stating ‘keep your coins I want change’ it was a sign. On the 23rd April 2013, the idea for Change Please was born: offering a way out of homelessness by training rough sleepers to be baristas, providing them with a living wage job, training, housing within 10 days, a bank account, therapy support and onward employment.

The MVP for Change Please was a coffee van in Covent Garden, but despite the attention it gained at launch, there wasn’t the big queue Cemal had hoped for. He quickly learned that regardless of his social impact element, Change Please was still competing with the big coffee chains; so much so that he had to pay staff out of his own pocket.

This highlighted the missing link between his vision and the reality (and why having an MVP is so important). Whilst Cemal had thought the support for homelessness was the key element, he soon realised that “price, quality and convenience have to be at least as good as our competitors” and that the social element was a bonus. Change Please’s messaging changed soon after. 

Meanwhile Cemal had been applying for a Virgin StartUp loan - and it came just in time. “Literally the last day that we needed to pay the deposit for the first vans, we got a £25,000 loan and that made this all happen,” Cemal reflected on an episode of The Jump podcast in 2022.

Despite finding the application process tough because it was so thorough, it was one that he recommends to every startup business today. As it happened, the Virgin StartUp loan was just the beginning. Cemal attended a StartUp Masterclass to learn more about the fundamentals of running a business and networking events to meet industry experts and fellow entrepreneurs. Then, Virgin StartUp and Virgin Unite reached out inviting him to Necker Island to meet Richard Branson and other business leaders. This experience gave him the motivation to keep going. 

Cemal’s entrepreneurial mindset and creative vision, together with his social impact values, has seen Change Please’s offerings continue to grow in a multitude of exciting ways. Change Please embraced different business models and now sells wholesale to gyms, offices and even Downing Street, has opened retail stores and expanded internationally; during Covid, they provided free coffee to NHS front-line staff (which later led to them securing a £4 million contract as coffee provider to the NHS); then they launched ‘the UK's most sustainable toilet roll’ with Serious Tissues; and more recently, Driving for Change. 

The latter of these supports rough sleepers with the essential services they often miss out on such as healthcare and dental care, as well as hairdressing and support with finances, training and employment. All of which is done, as the name suggests, on repurposed London double decker buses.  

As long as positive change is needed, you can be sure that Change Please will find an innovative way to lead the charge.