- Founder: Jaco De Witt
- Company: Roast Republic
- Visit: www.roastrepublic.co.za
At first sight it’s hard to imagine that Jaco De Witt has been anything other than a barista. But, as they say, you can’t judge a book by its cover.
Wearing jeans, chequered shirt and standing at the counter of the Roast Republic coffee shop, he is obviously happy and totally at home in his surroundings. His welcoming smile and open personality speak of a person who is exactly where he wants to be, doing exactly what he wants with his life.
It is only when he begins to speak that you realise his passion for coffee is driven by something far deeper than just being a maker and purveyor of coffee. His conversation is peppered with phrases that soon make you realise that he is far from being your average young entrepreneur.
He talks about ‘capitalism with a conscience’ and the need for entrepreneurs to have an approach to business that speaks to social obligations as well as a contribution to the corporate ‘triple bottom line.’ It soon becomes obvious that he is also a man who literally ‘puts his money where he mouth is.’
This entrepreneur, the founder of Roast Republic is both dedicated to the art of coffee making and making a difference by ensuring that 50% of gross profits made by the business are funnelled into educational development projects in South Africa.
“Social entrepreneurship is about challenging the way that people do business, challenging capitalism that is just about the bottom line. It is about challenging the way that you make a living. It is really about the triple bottom line of people, planet and profit, and making a sustainable difference in life and helping others.
“I believe that you can have a profitable business and a social conscience at the same time. You can make a difference by doing what you love and what you are good at,” says Jaco with a conviction that recalls his days as a pastor.
Entrepreneurs must know how to bounce back – watch the Roast Republic interview here.
Putting his passion for people and business into the same ‘basket’ began about five years ago when his interest in coffee led him to study the art of coffee roasting. His business persona saw the high profit margins available in coffee, his social conscience the chance to base the business on a ‘shared profit model.’ The concept of ‘social franchises ‘ was born and took root.
“The idea was that we should access enterprise development funding from large corporations that are legally obliged to funnel one percent of their profits into enterprise development and use the money to create opportunities for young, qualifying individuals to own a business. “
The vision has translated itself into three shops that operate as coffee shops and also market the various coffees roasted by the business. Located in office parks the businesses meet the growing need for office workers to have a steady supply of quality coffee close at hand during working hours.
The next step in the Roast Republic concept, the ‘coffee shop in a box’ was born from Jaco’s conviction that a coffee shop needed to be small, movable and able to get to coffee drinkers where they were, rather than have the customers come to a shop.
After toying with the idea for a while, Jaco brought together some friends in the shipping container industry and architects to help design a mobile coffee shop.
“It is a self-contained unit that is fully equipped. It just opens up and is ready for business. It is a plug and play solution that can be operational within 45 minutes of being placed on site. For an entrepreneur entering the franchise, the advantage is that a site for the business, which requires a minimal infrastructure, can be identified and the business can then be placed in situ ready to serve the public.
“Where the social franchise concept comes in is that we realised that people within the coffee industry were working in an enterprise where their upward mobility was restricted. Unless they received assistance, they would never be able to own a business,” says Jaco.
“We began looking at enterprise development and finding ways that we could help people working at Roast Republic become their own bosses.”
A partnership with Standard Bank has helped find a way forward. The coffee shop accelerator programme will involves the bank and Roast Republic in developing business training to help young entrepreneurs. Following this with hospitality industry and franchise training sees the emergence of people ready to compete in the coffee industry. The first intake of potential barista’s will kick off the programme later this year after all applications have been assessed.
The final component is access to corporate enterprise development funding to open the business. The keys to a Roast Republic franchise are then ready to be handed over.
Running a business that has social involvement as its key element requires being committed to openness. It is this quality that Jacob most values and advocates for people entering business.
“Having an open attitude means that you are always ready to expose yourself to different things and learn from anyone. There is so much to learn from so many people and so many ways to grow.
“My first mentor said; ‘In life always say yes’. Many times we have opportunities and we say ‘no’-mainly because the opportunities are difficult or look like long shots. Rather say ‘yes’ and follow the road to see where it leads.
“Being open means stumbling across things that you would otherwise not have experienced. Standing still means falling behind. It is up to you alone to decide whether you want to be relevant 10 or 20 years from now.”
Staying relevant is the mantra of Roast Republic. The way it sees itself being pertinent is through being an active agent for social change. To quote the Roast Republic website:
“Not only do we pride ourselves in sourcing & roasting the finest coffee beans on the planet, but we also have a huge passion for South Africa and her beautifully diverse people. We have a dream for our country, and that dream is a republic in which education is accessible for all.
Coffee is our currency, education our priority.
We trade a cup of coffee for a day at school.