DOEN Participaties invests in pioneers who follow an entrepreneurial approach to create a better world. This is the story of Mathijs Huis in ‘t Veld, who together with Pepijn Schmeink founded Jack Bean, a vegan fast food restaurant offering vegetables, grains and pulses supplied locally.
From business student to sustainable entrepreneur
I studied business administration – a very commercial study where you are actually prepared for working for Shell or Unilever. During my studies, I started my own student employment agency with a friend, somewhat by chance. I noticed that I really enjoyed entrepreneurship and innovation. After a few years, when we had to decide if we wanted to make it a serious business, I didn’t feel passionate enough to devote another ten years of my life to it. Although the business was running well and generating good money, I felt it was missing something. That’s when I started looking further. An old school friend, who studied development economics, introduced me to the concepts of ‘sustainability’ and ‘social entrepreneurship’.
I remember a good example of this. An American guy saw that lots of homeless women who lived on the streets in Brazil made bags from the tabs of soft drink cans. He founded Escama together with a Brazilian partner, and turned the bags into a ‘premium product’. You could buy them at the Bijenkorf department store, for example. The company helped to get these women off the street, providing them with a good, safe job. I thought that was such a nice combination of being engaged in commercial entrepreneurship and making an impact on the lives of others. I sold my company and within a month I saw a vacancy at Enviu. This was the perfect opportunity for me to get a taste of sustainable entrepreneurship. I worked on the Hybrid Tuktuk project with them, helping to set up a company in India. In the process, I discovered my passion for doing business and doing good at the same time. I really like that. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Accelerating the transition to a plant-based, natural diet
What would be great is if 20 years from now, people in Europe were to say that Jack Bean served as one of the most inspiring plant-based brands. That would be very cool. Our ultimate goal is to accelerate the transition to a plant-based, natural diet. So our goal will have been achieved if in 20 years’ time, we see that we eat radically less animal protein in the Netherlands. But that’s not just down to Jack Bean even though we’re contributing.
A vacant building: the perfect location
The location came our way, which sent Jack Bean into overdrive. It was a really nice A location with almost no rent. We saw it was empty and went after it. After that, the Municipality of Rotterdam did its best to direct us to the landlord, who actually did not want to do anything with this property because it would be demolished the following year. It gave us a perfect opportunity to build the brand for a relatively low investment, to experiment a lot and also to show the investors that it was a viable concept.
DOEN’s impact investment
Due to the willingness of the DOEN Foundation and iFund to move with us, we managed to open within three months. There you can clearly see the difference between regular investors who would only invest in a company like ours much later and the somewhat riskier impact investors like DOEN and iFund. It’s incredible they even dared to risk investing in us. Clearly they understand how things work. If the investments had only come three months later, we would not have been able to open and this opportunity would have passed. Something like that has a huge impact on your start-up.
More respect and appreciation for the hospitality industry
What struck me is how incredibly hard it is to open a catering business. I really underestimated that. I think there should be more respect and appreciation for the hospitality industry in the Netherlands. This even escapes me sometimes if I go somewhere to eat or drink - there are people there working really hard for you. You often take that for granted as a guest.
Planting seeds in people who normally avoid vegan food
One of the most inspiring experiences I’ve had with our guests so far is when a man wrote a short review on Google: ‘Very good vegan food for a reasonable price. Normally I don’t eat vegan but this is excellent!’ I thought ‘Yes, this is what we want to achieve’. If VEGAN had been written in capitals on the outside of the building, that person would have gone out of their way to avoid it. As it turns out, he really enjoyed it. I hope we continue to plant seeds – that more people discover how great it is not to eat meat. I’m proud that we’re contributing towards achieving this.