Entrepreneur

445k Disabled M'sians, And This Startup Is Their Shot To Earn A Living As Baristas

A trip to Starbucks was all the inspiration it took for one of the co-founders to jumpstart this whole operation. He realised that while he enjoyed the experience of sitting in a Starbucks to work on his assignments, the high cost of a cuppa means that most students cannot afford it often, even though they love it.

This was when he was inspired to bring premium quality coffee at a more reasonable price for university students. This may seem like a ridiculous feat, because how can cheap coffee still be of high quality?

Well, that is the question that we asked co-founder of Coffeezone Izzani, because now with the operation of Coffeezone, it’s one of their stated goals. He runs the business along with co-founder Caroline Fong who shares a passion in bringing coffee to those who want it.

And they’re aiming for the heart of coffee culture too. By operating within higher learning campuses themselves, interested coffee lovers don’t even need to leave campus to enjoy their freshly brewed cup of joe.

Serving Basic Coffee At RM4.90 A Cup

Cold Drinks by Coffeezone

What sets them apart from the dime a dozen cafés around town is the fact that their coffees actually range from RM4.90 to RM8.90, all without sacrificing the quality of a premium shot that is pulled by a trained barista.

RM4.90 will get you a simple cup of Americano, whereas the higher end of the price spectrum would bring about vanilla lattes or the flavoured caramel machiattos.

But how does this pricing make business sense?

In Coffeezone’s quest to bring the prices down, they realised that it was possible to set up shop for coffee-selling as long as they had a wide enough surface to place the relevant machines and store ingredients.

So they built smaller kiosks that can be easily set up right in the heart of any campus without taking up too much space—while also bringing the coffee straight to their clientele.

They are certainly not the first coffee kiosk around town, but they’re taking advantage of what they have to drive the prices down for a university student’s favourite morning boost.

A Coffeezone kiosk in action

The enterprising founders even found a way to bring the cost of building the kiosk down by teaming up with fellow social enterprise (SE), Kayubesi.

“Kayubesi developed our second outlet’s booth at Cyberjaya University College of Medical Science (CUCMS), Cyberjaya. As they are also a social enterprise that upcycles wood pallets, we can reduce costs since we don’t need to buy virgin wood. In addition, as an SE we want to help other SEs!”

“So far it is not difficult for us to get approval from the management side,” said Coffeezone about setting up on-campus. “But of course, there are some terms and conditions that we have to follow.”

Besides just thirst-quenchers, Coffeezone also offers a variety of pastries such as cookies, french toasts and sausage rolls, with Izzani guaranteeing more coming along the way.

Employing Disabled Baristas

A Coffeezone disabled beneficiary

Astute readers might have noted earlier that Izzani refers to his business as an SE.

As an extra-special touch in each cup of morning pick-me-up, the drinks that patrons enjoy are all prepared by disabled baristas, ranging from the deaf to the mentally impaired. This way, the disabled are given a chance to have jobs and be part of society.

With around 445,000 people with disabilities registered in Malaysia in 2012, this is a significant number of people whose lives can be changed simply by allowing them a chance at gainful employment.

“We provide barista training for our beneficiaries and eventually employ them,” said Izzani. “How long it takes to train the differently-abled person depends on the individual. Since we started disabled-training in October 2016, one of our beneficiaries (baristas-in-training) was able to cope with the basic skills required within a month. Meanwhile others are still in our training stage.”

Coffeezone also proves that barista training for the differently-abled indeed requires some rethinking of the barista 101 manual, but it can be done.

A beneficiary who finished his training

“The main challenge that we encountered is to make barista tasks as simple for them (beneficiaries) as possible. We can’t train them the same way we train normal individuals.”

“We did some adjustments in our training manual and gave them extra attention. It takes longer for them to understand and be able to perform a particular task, as all of our current beneficiaries for now are under the learning problem category.”

“We work closely with Unit Orang Kurang Upaya (OKU) under Jabatan Kebajikan Masyarakat (JKM), where they help us with the selection of candidates, training manual and provide us with job coaching support,” said Caroline.

And the team is keen to make a change in society where they can and they know what they do has impact.

“Many employers simply brush off the disabled as liabilities without ever giving them a chance. If they are liabilities, why do well-known companies like Starbucks and Mydin want to hire them? The answer is simply because they see potential in them,” Caroline added.

He gave the example of an accountant who has lost his leg in a car accident. He doesn’t need his leg to think. He needs a perfectly functional brain to do his work.

“We can’t say that they are liability just because they are different from us. The accountant is still an accountant but without a leg. We should embrace their differences and support them in whatever situation.”

Now many organisations has come to their senses and hiring a differently-abled person is not something new anymore.

A MaGIC-al Journey

When asked about their proudest moment in this Coffeezone journey, the Caroline and Izzani replied with “MaGIC” without hesitation.

“We are proud to be part of MaGIC Accelerator Program Social Enterprise (MAP SE) Cohort 3. From almost 300 applicants, we are the lucky few who were selected to be part of the program. We learnt a lot from the program, like financing, marketing, prototyping and much more.”

Starting their SME because they had faith in a community that society does not usually award with a chance, it seems that MaGIC similarly placed their faith into the founders of Coffeezone.

Now with having gone through the mentoring and imminent expansion underway, you might just start finding Coffeezone kiosks appearing in a university near you. My personal request is if they would consider setting up in office areas too.

 

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