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In the buzzy confines of the Bar at Iceberg’s in Sydney, Australia, Sam Prince is jet-lagged, (having just flown back from Kimbal Musk’s wedding in Europe) but his passion for equality, opportunity and solving the world’s problems shines through loud and clear. Hyper-articulate, a voraciously polymathic auto-didact (he has spent the flights there and back devouring lectures on machine learning), his conversation is peppered with references to Seneca, Darwin, Buddha, Richard Dawkins, and Michael Jordan (he is a self-confessed ‘basketball tragic’, Australian slang for an obsessed fan) – an eclectic group of influences if there ever was one.
Prince is one of Australia’s most successful entrepreneurs and philanthropists. His Zambrero Mexican fast-casual chain restaurant chain (which he started as a 21-year-old medical student with just $16,000 AUD) now has 200 restaurants globally, and its ‘Plate for Plate’ initiative has generated more than 30 million meals for people in need, and funded his ‘One Disease’ non-profit which has the sole focus of eliminating Crusted Scabies in the Northern Territory and on track for elimination of the rest of Australia by 2022. In addition, he has founded numerous other businesses, including Next Practice (reinventing the medical clinic experience), Shine+ (an energy drink with ingredients to help improve brain function and health), as well as the Sam Prince Hospitality Group, who operate other concepts like Mejico, a market to table casual dining restaurant and INDU, a casual dining restaurant with a focus on the food of Sri Lanka and India.
His story is all the more remarkable when you understand the context. Prince is a second-generation Australian; his parents were Sri Lankan immigrants whose roots were in the rural south of the country. His mother worked in a paddy field when she was young, harvesting rice, and then went on to get five degrees and a PhD and was an economist at the Australian Bureau of Statistics. Prince himself began tertiary education when he was just sixteen years old and now has a net worth of approximately $294 million Australian dollars.
Prince talked about the genesis of his idea to start Zambrero, which came about while he was working part-time at a Mexican restaurant to pay the bills while still a medical student.“There’s a quote by Steven Spielberg, who said that ‘intuition whispers in your ear it rarely yells.’ And indeed in my life, intuition was whispering in my ear that Mexican food was just not done well for a long period of time in Australia. And at some point, it started to yell.” Zambrero now has plans for international expansion, including into the United States.
Prince also has ambitious goals about where he’d like to take Zambrero’s social impact initiatives.“With Zambrero, we have a very clear view by 2025, we want to deliver a billion meals and thereby take a pretty big sizable dent out of hunger: because when you deliver a billion meals and it means the next year you’d be able to deliver two billion.” Much of this is driven by his own parent’s experiences growing up in Sri Lanka. “My parents came from a very, very poor family of rural Sri Lankans. These are the two people in their villages who the only kids to pass year 10. None of their family went to university. These are the people who broke the cycle, right? But you realize that when you talk to them about their story, for families with no income, that hunger is a real problem.”
Prince talked about his pride in being an Australian but was also honest about the need for the country to come to terms with its past. ”I’m so proud to be Australian. I think it’s the best country in the world in some respects. In others, it is woeful – for instance, in its reconciliation of itself and its own history. We’ve got a nation that is millions of years old and we’ve got native cultures with horrific things happening to them about 200 years ago, things like the Stolen Generation (the forcible removal of aboriginal children from their parents).” Prince founded One Disease, which aims to tackle the eradication of crusted scabies, a preventable disease often found amongst remote indigenous communities.
Prince shared his philosophy behind another venture of his, Next Practice, which aims to transform medical care. “With Next Practice- I’m kind of sick of ‘best practice’ now. It’s failed us in my opinion and I’m really interested in what is next. There’s a civil war going on right now between conventional medicine and a new kind and we, as doctors, need to be ahead of that and understand it. And importantly, our role is to wrap wisdom around the power that has been unlocked right now in fields like genetics and machine learning and AI. I think it’s amazing to be a doctor in this time when everything is changing, its such a gift.”
Prince sees a sense of fairness as a common thread amongst all his different endeavors.“Zambrero has a meal for a meal. Next Practice is ‘care for care’ – for every patient we see, we vaccinate someone in the developing world. One Disease is very basically skin health; seven out of 10 aboriginal kids under the age of one would get scabies at least once. That’s not fair. Where people start out in life, at least from an educational and healthcare point of view, should be fair. So I’m very happy to work and lend a hand in that area.”
Ultimately Prince sees his life’s purpose in a very simple and clear way. “Every human has to effectively answer two questions: Why do you exist on this planet. And then when you’ve answered the first one, then which path do you choose to take? For me, it was very simple and that was to have the courage to live out my best thoughts. I’ve just got a sparky mind and I have lots of these ideas and the best ones I make real. I believe that basic things like education and healthcare, the things that were actually the batons of kindness that were fought for and passed onto me by my parents, and I should do that for the next generation when I pass that baton on to the next group.”
April 16, 2019 at 11:10AM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs