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The entrepreneur combining business with purpose

Canadian entrepreneur Mark Brand creates sustainable business models to make a difference. He'll share his expertise at the next visiting entrepreneur program.

Mark Brand

Mark Brand is one of North America’s foremost social entrepreneurs. He has 11 businesses under his belt, including Vancouver’s most recognisable social enterprise Save on Meats Diner & Butcher and Persephone Brewing. Mark is also professor of innovation at the University of Southern California.

Now the restaurateur, chef and social entrepreneur is bringing his passion and expertise in balancing business with purpose to Sydney and Wagga Wagga. In October he’ll take part in a series of events as part of the City of Sydney’s visiting entrepreneur program.

Mark’s an engaging speaker and his personal story and work has struck a chord worldwide. A recent video featuring him talking about his approach and projects by Now This, gained over 4 million views on Facebook and tens of thousands of shares.

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We caught up with Mark to find out more about his evolution as an entrepreneur and the social impact economy.

Why do you think cities around the world are seeing the rise of the ‘social entrepreneur’? Is it fair to call it a business revolution?

"This is a big question and one I spend a lot of time on. The prevalence of ‘social impact’ is driven by generations who’ve had enough and by millennials who need something to believe in and are led by heart and purpose before boats, cars and mansions.

"This revolution in business is now a necessity. If we don’t double down on impact and work to blend it with good business and capital, we won't have a planet to operate on. It also feels amazing to get up and do good every day."

You are based in Vancouver but spent 9 years living in Melbourne from 1995 working as a dishwasher, cook, barman and DJ. You’ve said that period was very influential in your life. How did you end up in Australia?

"My father had taken a job in Melbourne and I packed up a bag to go ‘visit’. 2 weeks in I made the decision to go home, pack up my bags and move to Australia.

"Getting work was super challenging. I got a job as a prep cook and dishwasher on Chapel Street and worked insane hours for a Greek family. They really showed me how the restaurant business looked at its hardest hustle.

"I still attribute my success in part to that one summer spent working for a Greek Taverna in Lorne, Victoria. I learned from one of the greatest restaurateurs ever, how it was really done, that everything was about the customer. The customer is the single most important piece of the puzzle and the way you made them feel would make or break your business.

"I still use those practices in dealing with everyone from the most marginalised to my teachings at USC. People first – their success and experience is the centre point of everything we design."

Is it possible to give back to the community and make money?

"Yes. Unequivocally, yes."

What role do consumers have in the ‘business with purpose’ movement?

"Consumers have tremendous power in moving larger business to accountability. If everyone stopped shopping at places that were harmful and made wiser choices, the market forces would react instantly (or pretty damn fast). Money talks, internet advocacy walks: they're great in tandem."

What’s the key messages you’re hoping Sydney audiences will take away from your range of speaker events as part of the City of Sydney’s visiting entrepreneur program?

"We have dozens of things to work on together and I'm over the moon excited. We’re going to talk about everything from upward mobility of marginalised communities, advocacy through action, emergent agricultural movements, digital tech and homelessness, design thinking and the list goes on. I’m coming to work until I can't work anymore.

"Australia gave me my entrepreneurial start and I’m very excited to give back in every way I can."

Find out more about upcoming events in the visiting entrepreneur program.

Mark Brand events in the visiting entrepreneur program

Mark will be taking part in a series of free talks, seminars and mentoring sessions from Monday 22 October to Wednesday 31 October.

Launch event: From Success to Significance with Mark Brand and Holly Ransom Monday 22 October, Sydney Startup Hub

Design Thinking Masterclass with Mark Brand
Monday 29 October, Sydney Startup Hub

The Impact Games Launch – Mark Brand Opening Remarks
Friday 26 October, Sydney School of Entrepreneurship

Regional NSW Tour: Wagga Wagga with Mark Brand
Tuesday 30 October, Food I Am

The Rise of the Social Entrepreneur – in conversation with Mark Brand and Creel Price
Wednesday 31 October, Australian Technology Park

Published 12 October 2018, updated 29 February 2024