In the latest episode of ProfileTree’s Business Leaders series, we sit down with Azhar Murtuza from Born Maverick to talk about vegan values, environmental sustainability and running a successful food business.
Based in Belfast, Born Maverick has already secured a number of achievements such as being a Student Invent Finalist; a QUB Dragon’s Den Finalist and a Belfast Business Idea Awards 2019 Top 5 finalist. Check out the full interview below, or read on for the highlights.
Starting a Sustainable Vegan Business
At the beginning of the interview, we chatted with Azhar about the path which led him to establishing a vegan food business. For this young entrepreneur, the path to business began at Queen’s University Belfast where he initially presented his business concept to Enterprise SU.
“I think they saw that instinct of entrepreneurial ability within me, as well as the authenticity of my belief in my business. The mentorship and guidance was fantastic, and I was eventually awarded Innovation Vouchers by Invest NI.”
This recognition compelled Azhar to take the new steps towards growing his business. He brought the product to a food technologist, who applauded the idea behind the business, yet questioned how sustainable the model would be in Northern Ireland.
This criticism stirred Azhar, who was committed to the idea of heading up an eco-friendly and sustainable enterprise. “The concept of veganism isn’t just about food and ingredients, and I didn’t want to sell a vegan drink in a plastic bottle,” he recalls. A decision was then made to move forward in a way that was sustainable, ethical and of benefit to society.
“We packaged it in our sachets, which were compostable and not just biodegradable. In every aspect, we did things in an ethical way,” says Azhar, whose innovative packaging is the first of its kind in the global market. “This is more than just a drink – it’s about getting things right in every respect.”
With a background in biotechnology, Azhar left behind a lucrative career in an Indian mining firm. “This was harmful to nature, and I never was comfortable with what I was doing. That’s when I decided I had to do something else – something that didn’t exploit nature. That’s when I chose Queen’s University.
But why Queen’s University out of all the choices in the world? According to Azhar, it’s quite a funny story. “I just wanted to get away, and I was selected for QUB and Trinity College Dublin. I wanted to be in the UK, and I was in a bubble of my own and hadn’t even seen a map of Ireland. I lined up in Heathrow airport before someone kindly told me I was in the wrong country! According to the young businessman, he was so wrapped up in what he was doing that these essential details became an afterthought.
Insights into the Vegan Lifestyle
For Azhar, veganism is a philosophy rather than a mere lifestyle choice. “I see that lots of people think they are vegan just by cutting down on meat. Others progress and they go into a level of being an extremist! You need to be the change you want to see in people, and we need to be aware of what suits our body. I didn’t become a vegan overnight – I discovered what best suited my body. Our food industry has a long way to go in creating strong alternatives to meat,” he argues.
The duplication of meat isn’t only failing because of a lack of resemblance, says Azhar. Vegans don’t want a perfect rendition of bacon in plastic packaging – they are concerned about processing and the health of the planet. It’s beyond the ingredients, and Azhar believes that much work has to be done in transforming perceptions.
“If you know how the meat is done and made, it’s more than just meat. It’s the process – the exploitation of nature. This is what is wrong, and this is how flexitarians come into play. If people cut down on meat, the demand, supply and exploitation will inevitably come down”. For the Born Maverick founder, it is just as important that people buy into the philosophy as it is buying the products themselves.
For Born Maverick, converting consumers towards that philosophy forms the ethical backbone of the brand. “It’s all about creating a sustainable and ethical environment which caters to the morals of veganism. I want to target everyone who believes we have to take a step towards saving nature”.
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