This afternoon was spent in an unusually productive manner – in the company of business incubation outfit Medu at a hotel in Rosebank with 18 talented young South African entrepreneurs. And any suggestion that we’d rather have been with Idris Elba and the casts of Long Walk to Freedom in the suite next door is clearly not true. Honest.
Medu’s an unusual outfit – it looks for young or up-and-coming (one company was almost 20 years old) black owned companies and pairs them with larger organisations looking to earn BEE points for social investment. The result is a load of talented entrepreneurs get training, investment and – after a business boot camp in Cape Town – the chance to pitch for a chance to spend 10 days in the UK to receive more training and seek out networking opportunities to take their businesses international.
The pack of 18 hopefuls pitching today were selected from around 200 applications for the course, and ranged from an IT systems integrated in Zululand to a Sowetan TV installation service and a firm that provides the back-end for SMS marketing.
Here’s my pick of the five best presentations of the day.
Undoubtedly the star of the show, but also the least business-like, is Trees Can Save Rhinos from Mareka IT Solutions. We’ve been asked not to reveal the details of Mareka’s idea as it might tip off poachers, but Mbekezeli Khumalo says that the firm is looking at several ways of preventing poachers from getting close to areas where rhinos are known to gather – all of which sound very sci-fi but are based on sound science. Mareka is also planning on meeting up with the UK’s prestigious Serious Games Institute in order to look at developing mobile phone apps that can train schoolkids in areas like Kruger about why rhino poaching is a bad thing.
I’ve written about Cosev before, when the app – which is developed by Pulego Communications – won second prize at the Inventors’ Garage. It’s a simple mobile phone app which allows residents to send comments directly to municipalities and check the status of their issue. From potholes to cable theft to water shortages, it’s the kind of civic service delivery reporting that technology could revolutionise in South Africa.
A very close contendor for second place, Iintsizwa Ziphelele (IZ) has a business plan that’s nothing short of genius. A small Sowetan outfit in the business of screen printing T-shirts, the company produces its own designs as well as taking bulk orders for corporates. A couple of years ago, Kevin Halama explains, the firm realised that it needed to do something radical to stand out. With backing from the DTI, they upgraded to a digital printing press, one of the only ones in the country, and can now produce fashions faster and bulk orders cheaper than their peers. The really clever bit, however, is what Halama wants to do in the UK: by finding overseas fashion outfits with the same printing machines, he believes he can convince them to licence their designs to be made in South Africa, for South Africans at knockdown prices.
It’s madness, he says, that cotton is a cheap commodity in South Africa but so few clothes are produced locally. Most cotton gets shipped out, turned into clothes, and imported back. IZ is hoping to change that and grow a manufacturing base here.
What has it got in itssss pockkeettsss, preeecious? In my pockets right now, I have several wads of receipts, a by-product of paying for most things by card these days and the South African obsession with paperwork. Some of them are on their third or fourth wash, and are slowly solidifying into tiny papier mache dolls which will one day rise up and conquer the world.
Hurrah, then, for Nokuthula Hlongwane, and her firm Anibo Consulting. It’s working on a system that will make receipts paperless, and she wants to go to the UK to talk to people like Tesco who are already using this kind of technology. By saving something in the region of 3 500 till rolls a day, she’s doing her bit for the environment, as well as the filters on a million washing machines all over the country.
A tough choice to round this list off, but just pipping a couple of intriguing pieces of educational software is Ebony & Ivory Consulting’s CASHCOW. Henk Koekemoer says that the company aims to make accountancy training fun, thanks to its educational program and boardgame – yes, boardgame – designed to teach the fundamentals of double entry bookkeeping and sales ledgers. It’s an ambitious claim, but according to Koekemoer CASHCOW is already in use in many FET colleges and is looked upon favourably by the Department of Basic Education and the Institute of Bookkeepers. If he gets to the UK, he wants to seek out similar educational games for ideas about producing a tablet version.