Origin Story Interview W/ Mirjam Walser, The Vegan Business School

Origin Story Interview W/ Mirjam Walser, The Vegan Business School

Brighter Future

 / 

Mar 1, 2023

#BrighterFuture #entrepreneurship #Sustainability #ClimateChangeSolution #originstoryseries #seekthechange #VeganBusiness #VeganEntrepreneurs #businesschool #VeganLifestyle #BusinessSuccess

Brighter Future

We’re here with Mirjam Walser, joining us for a few minutes to share her journey of founding initiatives dedicated to helping people with vegan business ideas succeed.

Thank you so much for being with us! Do you think you could introduce yourself and your work?

My name is Mirjam, and I am based in Berlin and Switzerland. I am the founder of the Vegan Business School which helps people who want to start a vegan business with online courses and tailor-made 1:1 support. The Vegan Business School teaches all the necessary business and mindset tools while providing accountability and support. The goal is to make the launch of a vegan business easier and less scary.

I am also the founder of the Vegan Entrepreneurs Network, a global network for people interested in vegan entrepreneurship or who already have a vegan business. We have local hubs in Europe and one in the US, and I am running the regional hub here in Berlin.

That's great! Which one did you start first?

The Vegan Entrepreneurs Network started in Zurich in 2015 when my sister and I recognised our need for a community of like-minded individuals who shared our ideas of sustainability, doing good, and creating social businesses. At the time, veganism was less popular in Switzerland, and we wanted to create a space to connect with others who shared our values. 

The Vegan Entrepreneurs Network began as small lunch gatherings with just a few people but eventually grew to host events with hundreds of attendees. After I moved to Berlin, the network continued to grow and expand to other European cities such as Holland, Paris, Barcelona, and more, opening soon.

The Vegan Business School was launched 8 years later and is based on feedback from the vegan community. At the events for vegan entrepreneurs, a lot of people came to just get inspired. I came across many people who wanted to dedicate their professional time and knowledge to veganism. But most of them had no idea about how to start a business or felt overwhelmed, many of them women with great skills and talent. By then, I had already gathered quite a lot of entrepreneurial experience. That is why I decided to share my knowledge and make it easier for others to start their dream vegan business.

It sounds like the school is doing very well! Is there a main goal you think you’d like to achieve with it, as well as the Vegan Entrepreneurs Network?

The overall vision of my business activities is to create a world that benefits humans, the environment, and animals. I believe in the power of entrepreneurship. By increasing the number of vegan businesses, we can make the world more vegan-friendly. Providing easy access to high-quality, sustainable and vegan products and services makes it easier and more enjoyable for people to switch. Ultimately, I dream of a world which is based on kindness and compassion for all beings.

The Vegan Entrepreneurs Network aims to empower those already in business to leverage the power of the community to achieve this vision.

The Vegan Business School empowers individuals who don't have a business yet but want to use their time, skills and knowledge to positively impact the world.

What drove you to start your vegan business, and how did the benefits for animals, human health, and the environment factor into your decision? Were they all considered from the start, or did that come into play later?

The Vegan Business School was created to serve beginner vegan entrepreneurs with potential who don’t have a business background or experience. Many of these entrepreneurs come to me from diverse backgrounds. My personal conviction is that veganism is a holistic view, and we must consider all aspects— not just food. Therefore, the Vegan Business School is open to all kinds of ideas: food, fashion, cosmetics, pet food, coaching and other service-based ideas.

It is important to remember that everyone has reasons for wanting to be vegan or more vegan-friendly, whether for health reasons, to help animals, or to protect the environment. These reasons may vary, and respecting and acknowledging that is important. 

Can you tell me about your background and how that shaped who you are today?

I have an unusual background for someone in the entrepreneurial world. I studied Art History and Business Administration, intending to work in the art market. After some time, I began to realise that the path I had chosen, while pleasant enough, would not give me the satisfaction of truly making a difference in the world. I wasn't vegan yet but I was looking for ways to contribute and positively impact the world.

I got involved in the startup scene as a volunteer, organising startup events, and connecting with people who were interested in creating positive change and in social entrepreneurship. I also launched my first few projects and tried out many new fields, from food waste to migration. 

Even though I loved this experience I didn’t have the courage yet to start a business full-time. I decided to seek employment to earn some money and gain work experience.

But the disappointment set in quickly because I worked in a big organisation. As you can imagine, things don't move as fast as I was used to from my previous experiences in the startup scene. I knew I was not where I wanted to be. So, I decided to leave. 

What followed in the next six years is now the foundation of the Vegan Business School

I co-founded the accelerator SINGA factory in Zurich, a startup program for refugees who lived in Switzerland which is still happening to date. After leaving the refugee project, I moved to Berlin where I continued running the Vegan Entrepreneurs Network, that my sister started in Zurich. We also launched our own business together, an online store and marketplace for high-end vegan fashion. It was a really cool experience and taught me all the do’s and don’ts of business creation. Unfortunately, it did not survive past the pandemic. 

After analysing my network, knowledge and skills I decided to start the Vegan Business School.

The root of my entrepreneurial journey is the need to bring positive change to the world, the love for entrepreneurship, and the love for new and innovative ideas. That got me to where I am now, and who knows where my path will lead me in a few years.

You are the sole founder of The Vegan Business School. Has that worked out better for you?

To become a solo entrepreneur was an organic development for me. A few years ago, I wouldn't have felt comfortable starting a business alone. I was scared. But through my exchange with other entrepreneurs and some mindset work I have found the courage to just try and start on my own.

I would have preferred to have a co-founder. Finding someone who shares your vision and is ready to join your project simultaneously takes work. I didn't have anyone prepared to join me, so I decided to start alone. But I am open to finding partners and bringing them on board. So if you are reading this and my project resonates with you, feel free to reach out.

Your business is under a year old. What gave you the confidence to pull this off on your own?

The most important thing is to try and get into action. No matter how big your plans are, unexpected things can happen, or the market may respond differently than expected. The only way to know if it will work out is to put yourself out there. My current business was not that difficult to start because I have the skills and network, and knowledge. All I needed was to create a website and start doing outreach. Soon I found paying clients which showed that there was a need for my offer. Now I'm recruiting for another round of the Vegan Business School and also expanded my offer to 1:1 support as it was requested by many.

What would you say is the one most fulfilling things in your work?

For me, it's incredibly fulfilling to empower others through what I teach and to see them build the courage to start a business of their own. That brings me a great deal of satisfaction and joy.

Did you ever change your career plan and take an unexpected direction in your journey?

My life has taken many unexpected turns. My professional career took a completely different direction than what I had planned in the very beginning. But I follow the mantra which my sister and I created when working on the fashion startup: whatever comes up, keep cool and stay flexible.

What are some of the biggest lessons you have learned as an entrepreneur?

Test quickly, use the results to make informed decisions and move on if the results don’t match your assumptions. 

Furthermore, I started to understand that fear is not always a bad thing. It can be a sign of something that you are passionate about, something so big that it feels intimidating. And if you are able to turn that fear into excitement, it can be a great motivator to help you reach your goals.

Indeed, fear can drive us to accomplish great things too. Were there any big “Aha!” moments in your journey?

Yes, I realised that there's no one big business idea. I used to search for THE one idea but I learned that if you choose the entrepreneurial path it is more likely that you will try out many things and fail often. Trying and failing is nothing bad and it is ok to take time to recover from failure. Then it is about starting something new. If it doesn't work out, it's okay to move on and try the next idea. This realisation took the pressure off of finding the one big thing and made it easier for me to start again with a more relaxed mindset.

Dealing with failure is difficult, especially shortly after it happened. I felt devastated a few times after my failures but I learned it was just the start of a new project. Failure made me stronger and less afraid, as I survived and still have the motivation to start again. Failure is not the end, it's just a new beginning.

Have any people inspired you along the way?

Marie Forleo is a major source of inspiration for me. She is a female entrepreneur, coach, and teacher of women to launch their businesses. Her American-style “can do” attitude, strong personality, and celebration of her femininity in a male-dominated startup world are what I admire about her. She inspires me to be confident in the startup world.

Tony Robbins is another person who inspires me. Although I don’t entirely agree with everything he teaches, I've gained valuable insights about using a positive mindset to move forward, believe in oneself, and create change.

Simon Sinek and his concept of the Golden Circle is a favourite of mine. It has become the foundation of what I teach. I have seen its effectiveness in my businesses and in people launching their own. The ideas about leadership, and focusing on leading from one's vision and heart are very compelling and impactful. 

What were the most significant compromises you had to make to get where you are today?

Starting a business and failing often was also challenging financially which created a lot of mental stress. Starting a business means letting go of the security of a regular salary and accepting the uncertainty of not having a guaranteed income or having only a small income from a part-time job which can sustain you in the beginning. This sacrifice is necessary especially when you don’t come from a wealthy background. But it is also important to recognise that it is temporary, as hard work and dedication will eventually pay off. However, I understand that this may not be possible for everyone. 

At times, I also prioritised work over my personal life and health which had a negative impact on my well-being. However, I noticed this early on before I burnt out and started to become more mindful, became an avid meditator, and prioritised my health. I learned that I am much more than my startup and that it's not worth sacrificing everything for work.

What is your vision? What future are you hoping to help create with your business?

My vision is to see a world which is kind and beneficial for humans, animals, and the environment. I want to see a change in human behaviour where animals are recognised as sentient beings and treated with respect. I also want to see people taking responsibility for the environment and preserving our planet for future generations.

What legacy do you hope to leave for future generations?

I hope that people will realise that kindness pays off and is a valuable asset. Kindness and compassion can be the foundation of both business and personal actions. We can build a better world by basing our decisions on kindness and compassion. This approach may seem unusual in business but it can lead to fulfilment and happiness.

Would you like to give young and upcoming entrepreneurs any advice?

First, remember that the timing is never perfect, and there will always be doubt and fear. However, these fears become less as you start taking action. It’s important to view these fears as excitement for a new journey. 

Second, try to go out with your idea as soon as possible. When testing your business idea, please focus on the smallest version of your product or service. Don't wait until the finished product is ready. The users or customers may have different expectations than you do.

Third, it's important to keep in mind that your business is not everything in life. Make sure to take care of yourself, your friends including furry friends, and your family, and have other interests or hobbies outside of work. This is important because the business landscape can change quickly, and it's essential to have a balanced life.

If there was one lasting message you could share with the world that could reach everyone on this globe, what would that be?

Be kind to yourself, be kind to the world, include everyone and use this kindness to create a business which will bring beautiful change to the world.

That’s a beautiful note to finish on. We at Brighter Future wish you nothing but the greatest success in your ventures, and your efforts to promote veganism around the world! Thank you for spending a little time with us!

If you would like to find out more about Mirjam and her businesses, check out www.veganbusiness.school, and her LinkedIn profile.

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