Entrepreneurs start businesses either to make money or change the world, or so goes the school of thought. Adeem Younis is someone who breaks that mould.
He is the founder of globally renowned matchmaking website SingleMuslim.com, and the twice-Guinness-World Record-breaking humanitarian charity, Penny Appeal.
Adeem’s passion for creating businesses that do good saw him win the ‘Entrepreneur for Good’ award for the North, before going on to secure the ‘Great British Entrepreneur of the Year’ award for the region.
Adeem went on to win the Entrepreneur for Good award at the national National Winners’ Evening, held at Coutts in London.
Before this, we caught up with Adeem to find out more about his story and his reaction to winning the two awards.
Did you have any real expectation of winning the ‘Entrepreneur for Good’ award, let alone the overall ‘Great British Entrepreneur of the Year’ award for The North?
Just being nominated for such a prestigious award was beyond my expectations. Having been acknowledged by the high-profile judges and being in the room with so many VIPs from the entrepreneurial world was more than enough of a prize for me.
Winning the ‘Entrepreneur for Good’ award is a testament to the incredible teams I’ve had the honour of working alongside, both at website SingleMuslim.com and Penny Appeal. Going on to take home the regional ‘Great British Entrepreneur of Year Award’ has been one of the biggest surprises of my career and recognises almost two decades of dedicated industry-leading work.
How refreshing is it to see an entrepreneurial-focused awards give recognition to entrepreneurs who launch something to do good, rather than just to make money?
The best entrepreneurs are those who are able to effectively solve problems, so naturally entrepreneurship and humanitarianism go hand in hand. Through creativity and innovation entrepreneurs are poised to change the world for the better. This is what my life and my passion is all about.
I think it’s amazing for the Awards to recognise this and celebrate those business leaders who make transforming the world a KPI for their own personal success.
Looking at the start of your journey, what motivated you?
I take my earliest inspiration from by mother, who took it upon herself to provide for our family after my dad passed away. She opened a stall in the local market teaching me how entrepreneurship, ingenuity and sheer hard work was a gateway for personal transformation. As I grew older and my first company began to take off I started to face pressure at home to get married, the only problem was I didn’t quite fancy the candidates that were lined up for me!
Your entrepreneurial career has spanned nearly 20 years. How do you think you’ve changed as an entrepreneur in that time?
My journey began like an amateur footballer, running around the pitch trying to get into the game. After some gruelling years earning my stripes and winning the trust of my team, it wasn’t too long before we were top of our league and taking home all sorts of silverware. The next step was getting into a different game, philanthropy. Taking my business skills across to a new space was challenging at first, especially because this time, as chairman, I was directing my team from the side-lines.
As I reflect on my journey, I realise what brought me success at the beginning is the same thing that brings success today; a lofty vision, an incredible team and pure hard graft. The game might change, but the player stays the same.
How do you balance your time and effort between a money-making business and a charity?
Entrepreneurship and philanthropy is not just what I do, they are who I am. The two feed into each other.
My business is successful primarily because it addresses a real social challenge through providing a user-friendly, secure, technological solution. Yes, I make money but more importantly to me, I am able to positively impact society. We’ve had over 50,000 people get married via our platform, the ripples this creates across society are immeasurable.
Likewise, Penny Appeal works to solve the crisis of poverty across the world and right here at our doorsteps in the UK. Penny Appeal has been credited as one of the fastest growing charities in our sector, as it leverages our decades of business experience, digital mastery and marketing reach.
Have you ever been tempted to focus on just one of them?
Making money is easy. Making a positive impact on the world, that’s the challenge I live for. Penny Appeal and SingleMuslim.com are two vehicles that achieve this same common outcome and they are two amongst many other outfits I’m engaged with! I can tell you there’s a lot more in the production line too, watch this space.
Can you tell me a bit about what Penny Appeal did in the wake of the Grenfell Tower disaster?
Within hours of the disaster breaking out, our teams were on the ground at Grenfell Tower assisting the operations. We have dedicated resources to respond to domestic crises and we were able to quickly mobilise and provide hot meals to survivors and volunteers as well as offer logistical support for various agencies working on the ground. Later, we provided essential food parcels and blankets and we still have long-term commitments to the communities and organisations that are assisting the families affected by the fire.
It was a proud moment that we were able to respond so quickly and effectively and we stand ever-ready to answer the call of and help communities in need.
You’ve recently partnered with one of our judges, the former Dragon’s Den star, James Caan CBE. Can you tell us how that came about, and how you’ve benefitted so far?
Imagine if we could leverage the power of entrepreneurship to sustainably support philanthropy? How could we best do that? That was the discussion I had with James Caan after a chance encounter with him at a community event. After visiting our operation in Wakefield, he fell in love with the work we are doing and in particular how we’ve been able to scale to reach millions of people and thrive across several industries.
Later this year, together we will launch “Penny Ventures” – a unique collaboration between the best of the business world and the best of the humanitarian field. Essentially, we are setting up an investment fund that will support emerging entrepreneurs but all the profits earnt by the fund will go directly to support poor and vulnerable individuals and communities.
Finally, with the National Winners Evening in mind, what would it mean to be crowned ‘Great British Entrepreneur of the Year’ for the whole the UK?
We’ve put our life and soul into creating a business that transforms lives, providing a tangible positive social impact on every level that it functions. Just to be in the running amongst so many trailblazers is recognition enough, to go on and take the national prize would be an incredible acknowledgement of almost two decades of blood, sweat and tears.
Applications for the 2018 NatWest Great British Entrepreneur Awards open in March. You can register your interest here.