Every morning, Kim Sil rides his solar-powered bicycle coffee cart to the train station in downtown Lund, Sweden. When the morning commute passes, he moves on to the university or another part of town–wherever there are crowds. On a good day, the 26-year-old student makes around $700.
Sil is a “Wheeler”–one of a growing number of young entrepreneurs making a living with a Wheelys bike cafe, a Swedish brand that franchises sustainable coffee carts around the world.
The product is essentially a full-service cafe on a bike. The newest version, now crowdfunding on Indiegogo, includes running water, a fridge, Wi-Fi, lightweight tables that fold into the bike like a Swiss army knife, and even charging stations where customers can plug in iPhones. A recycling bin at the back holds trash, and a tank under the sink collects graywater. Solar panels charge the lights, and an electric motor helps push the bike up hills.
The ultra-sustainable coffee cart was designed to compete with bigger chains. “They have a lot of advantages from Starbucks, which is located in the same place all the time,” says Maria De La Croix from the Nordic Society For Invention and Discovery, the company that developed the cart. “Wheelys can move, so you can meet the people where they are. At the same time, it has the same benefits as Starbucks–as a chain, it’s getting easier to find, and you know what you’ll get.”
The bike cafe is intended for millennials who don’t want to subsist on barista wages in someone else’s cafe, and might not otherwise be able to own businesses on their own. To franchise a new Starbucks cafe in the U.K., for example, you’d need nearly $800,000 in the bank–and you’d need to buy or rent real estate. The Wheelys Cafes start at less than $4,000.
Since the manufacturer wants to make the carts accessible for everyone, they’re looking at ways to make it even more affordable. “If you’re unemployed, it’s still a bit expensive to buy a Wheelys Cafe,” says De La Croix. “So that’s something we’re struggling with.”
After a previous Indiegogo campaign, the bike cafes have already started to provide new jobs around the world. In Amman, Jordan, 24-year-old Mohammed Hindawi rides a Wheely around a local bazaar and downtown Amman, earning about 20% more than he did in previous jobs (it also gives him guaranteed work in a tough economy–just before investing in the bike, Hindawi was unemployed). Wheelys are also in operation in nine other countries, from Singapore to Chile.
Eventually, the company hopes to be as recognizable as Starbucks–with a fresher image. “It’s friendlier and more eco,” De La Croix says. “People are also happier when they meet a Wheeler–I don’t think that people are that happy when they go to Starbucks.”