Money makers: Pedalling organic coffee

Maria de la Croix
Maria de la Croix: taking coffee to the streets

Maria de la Croix noticed some friends were making good money by selling coffee from a backpack, says Scheherazade Daneshkhu in the Financial Times. “They were doing it before school for two hours. So the idea was, maybe it’s possible to sell coffee in a similar but more effective way — like from a bike”, says the 29-year-old Swede (pictured). Her two co-founders, Per Cromwell and Tomas Mazetti, drew on their advertising backgrounds to come up with a name: Wheelys Café. In early 2014, the trio approached crowdfunding platform Indiegogo, raising $150,000 to build their first café bikes. Their big break came in 2015 when California-based start-up fund  Y Combinator helped them to secure additional seed capital.

Wheelys sells the bikes, which cost $4,000 to $15,000, to franchisees, who pay $99 a month for access to the firm’s branding and smartphone app. The organic coffee is supplied, but the vendors, who make roughly $300 to $400 a day, can choose what food to sell so long as at least 60% of it is organic. Of the 820 Wheelys, about 60% are in the United States, followed by China, the Middle East and Europe. “There are street corners everywhere… so there can be a lot of Wheelys cafés”, says de la Croix. “For me, the most important thing is to make it easy for people to run their own business.”

The Davos for millennial altruists

After years spent running Summit, an exclusive gathering described as a “Davos for millennials”, Elliott Bisnow, Brett Leve and Jeff Rosenthal and two other co-founders – all in their 30s – have embarked on an audacious real-estate project called Powder Mountain, says Paul Lewis in The Guardian. The mountain in Utah is already becoming a mecca for altruistically minded members of the global elite. Its aim is to be “a beacon of inspiration and a light in the world”, says Bisnow.

Ten years ago Bisnow cold-called a bunch of entrepreneurs he admired and invited them to Utah. He shouldered the cost of the 19-strong, all-expenses-paid trip on his credit card and then repeated the trick in Mexico, racking up a $75,000 debt in return for the formation of a “mutual-aid society” for young, well-connected businessmen, which in its early days included the co-founders of Twitter and Facebook and the real-estate heiress Ivanka Trump. Soon the founders were running dozens of “closed-door” events aimed at creating “positive impact”, including aboard Caribbean cruises. In 2013 the friends appealed to investors to help them buy Powder Mountain (with 10,000 acres of some of the best skiing terrain in the US) for $40m, in return for plots of land and their money back at a future date. The first wooden shells of 500 houses, coffee shops, restaurants, a sound studio and a hotel are already being built.

China’s thirst for wine

The first 6,900 bottles of British financier Chris Ruffle’s Chinese-made wine from his Treaty Port Vineyards near Yantai in coastal Shandong province, 450 miles southeast of Beijing, hit the shelves in Britain this month, says Adam Luck in The Sunday Times. It represents a victory in an epic battle with “incompetent builders, corruption, village politics and irate farmers”, says Ruffle, 59 – not to mention the ruling Communist Party, which built a four-lane highway right through Ruffle’s nine-year-old vines in 2014, for which he received just £4,000 in compensation.

Ruffle’s wine-making ambitions began in 2004, when he, a fluent Mandarin speaker, met a French winemaker in rural China and saw an opportunity to profit from China’s growing thirst for wine. He invested £5.5m in the region, and built a mock Scottish castle. “Writing a cheque for 600 tons of chicken s*** will live long in the memory,” he says. The wine sold in Britain, produced with the oversight of an experienced Australian winemaker, will cost around £13 a bottle, and is slightly sweet in line with Chinese tastes. “I could have invested… in Shanghai property,” says Ruffle. “But where is the fun in that?”

Superman has flown

Li Ka-shing, Asia’s second-richest man with an estimated $35bn (£25bn) fortune, according to Forbes, is handing over the reins to his Hong Kong-based business empire ahead of his 90th birthday in July. His eldest son, Victor, will take over the running of CK Hutchison Holdings and CK Asset Holdings, involved in retail, telecoms and utilities. In Hong Kong the elder Li is known as “Superman” for his business acumen. But he hasn’t always been so high-flying, notes Michael Sheridan in The Sunday Times. Arriving in the then-British colony in 1940 as a refugee from war-ravaged China, Li worked in menial factory jobs to support his family. But in the decades that followed the war, Li grew his businesses, particularly his property portfolio, as the city prospered and was transformed.

“Li’s retirement is seen as signalling the end of an era, and of the business model of the first generation of Hong Kong tycoons”, says Tammy Tam in The South China Morning Post. “It also marks the end of the era of business heavyweights enjoying close personal relationships with Chinese leaders, who are now more sensitive to public perceptions of cosy ties with tycoons.” Indeed, in 2015 “Li drew scathing criticism from state media for divesting assets in the People’s Republic”, says Robyn Mak on Breakingviews. “The mainland… looks hostile.”

Worse still for his successor, Li’s companies have largely become giant yield plays on electricity, water and gas firms across western Europe, Australia and Canada, says Bloomberg Gadfly. “While stable earnings and dividends may help to preserve wealth for the next generation, such businesses are hardly sexy” and may deter investors “at a time when the world is obsessed with technology”. Either Victor will have to find new ways to make money or “investors [will] just need to accept that Superman has flown”.