Luke & Mark Willms: Today’s Notable Young Entrepreneurs

MBUNTU, a coffee brand started by Luke and Mark Willms, imports coffee beans from over-looked regions like Uganda and sells their green, un-roasted beans to coffee shops and organizations. MBUNTU will be at the first annual Toronto Coffee & Tea Expo next weekend at The Glass Factory.

Who are you and what do you do?

We are the co-creators of MBUNTU – we are also brothers but, no, we are not twins. Our company focuses on coffee from over-looked regions like Uganda, and unique travel experiences and safaris throughout Africa.

Do you know where you got your drive from?
Our dad founded an NGO called the Salama SHIELD Foundation twenty-five years ago in Zimbabwe and Uganda that has affected tens of thousands of people through its various programs. Considering this, we’ve always had a vision for MBUNTU to make a similar impact through collaborating with other entrepreneurs in Africa. Both of us have started numerous endeavours that have failed — we both have the drive to make MBUNTU succeed.

How do you stay self-motivated?
Some of our recent ‘small wins’ have definitely helped – when other people start believing in what you are building and believing in your brand. It’s when the team starts to grow when things really get exciting, because any success benefits more than just us.

What would you say is your preferred way to network?
Considering the somewhat competitive sectors like the coffee and travel industries, it has required us to knock on many doors to continually expose our brand. Sending out hundreds of samples to coffee shops and roasters around the city was a large part of our day-to-day in the earlier stages of establishing our company. We were (and still are) very much the new guys to these industries — and it showed early on. But when you show up a year later to that roaster, to that café and to that distribution company with an improved product, it is then that you begin to be taken seriously. We’re excited to be a part of this year’s first annual Toronto Coffee & Tea Expo, where we’ll have the chance to connect with some major players in the industry. It is our commitment to our network overseas in Africa (and soon hopefully Brazil) that allows us to expose our story during any networking situation. It is also very much about maintaining the network that you have worked so hard to build.

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How would you describe your process for deepening relationships?
Our company relies on multiple partnerships and relationships to operate, whether it’s coffee farmers on the ground in Uganda, safari drivers in Kenya, our local coffee roasters and distributors here at home. These are relationships we created many years ago, so we would have to say maintaining relationships as opposed to deepening relationships has been the key for us. Although, we like to build deep relationships with our clients on our safari trips — it is one of the reasons we started the travel component to begin with.

What are your preferred tools for keeping organized?
Any cloud-based document sharing tool – Dropbox is our favourite. It also never hurts to have a miscellaneous drawer.

Who has been your mentor in helping you find success?
We would have to say each other as co-creators. We both bring totally different and unique strengths to the company and we truly hold each other accountable. Being brothers allows us to be 100% honest all the time.

What social issue does your organization raise funds and/or awareness for?
This is something we have chosen to outline in detail on the ‘impact‘ section on our website. Our company was actually named after one of the programs of the Salama SHIELD Foundation (SSF) — a program called the ‘Mbuntu Dialogues’ that focuses on micro-finance and entrepreneurship. As a result, we would have to say finance-driven programs for entrepreneurs in Africa. Micro-finance has a proven track record with SSF (99.9% repayment). Women especially utilize these loans to jumpstart small businesses with no default. With this knowledge surrounding micro-finance, we have a similar built-in emphasis within our own company. It is less about raising funds and more about opening up market access for entrepreneurs. We believe this is what’s next for social innovation — collaborating with those in emerging economies.

How and where do you continue to learn?
With most of our operations happening overseas, we’ve had to learn how to adapt to daily delays, communication breakdowns, and misunderstandings. Considering we operate on a direct trade model for our organic beans from Uganda, there are dozens of steps we take in order to get the coffee to Canada. We are now three years in and are still learning about how to better streamline our coffee production.

Do you have a fitness ritual that you live by?
We both lift multiple times a week – training smart and strengthening weakness points.

How do you feed your soul?
Travel. Meditation. Lots of reading. We both have a deep history in the music industry as well — there’s usually a guitar hanging around. We are both pretty strict in regards to who we spend time with – good friends are the most valuable asset of all.

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How would you describe the eating ritual that makes you feel most powerful?

We both eat clean, gluten free and organic as much as possible.

Who is your favourite personality to follow on YouTube?
Patrick Salvado Idringi – an upcoming Ugandan comedian.

What type of content do you find most compelling on Instagram?
Images with a story behind it, and a little effort with the captions. The more info the better.

What lifestyle brand would you say shares your values most?
Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group. He’s not afraid to branch out into new sectors and learn about new industries as his company grows. We can see MBUNTU breaking into other sectors in the future as well. Mr. Branson also values young and upcoming entrepreneurs with his Branson Centre of Entrepreneurship in South Africa.

Who is your favourite artist?
Anything reggae and as of recently the ‘Bossa Nova’ genre (classic Brazilian) leading up to the coffee trip to Brazil.

What is your favourite sport to watch?
Basketball. We have been Raptors fans since day one. We’ll also wake up at 3:00 am to watch Federer face Nadal at the Australian Open Tennis.

Where is your favourite place to unwind?
In the summer — sailing on Lake Ontario. In the winter — a safari lodge, at night, by a fire, after an outdoor dinner — sharing stories with our fellow travellers.