The business incubator that focuses on platinum

Sibongile Shongwe, chief executive officer of The Platinum Incubator

Sibongile Shongwe, chief executive officer of The Platinum Incubator

The Platinum Incubator is the only small business startup hub in the world devoted to encouraging budding entrepreneurs to develop world-class products and applications using platinum group metals (PGMs).

Established in 2006, this nonprofit organisation has spent more than 10 years helping aspiring jewellers build careers in the design and manufacture of jewellery using platinum, silver, palladium, gold, diamonds and semi-precious stones mined in Southern Africa.

To date, the organisation has helped more than 135 small businesses get up and running. This translates to an inclusive turnover of more than R9 million and the creation of more than 235 jobs.

“Our three-year incubation process provides aspiring goldsmiths with everything they need to know to launch and sustain an income-earning business that can proudly take its place in the highly competitive jewellery manufacturing space,” says Sibongile Shongwe, chief executive officer of The Platinum Incubator.

“We provide and facilitate tooling, communal workspaces, platinum metal loans, routes to market, business development advice and mentorship to semi-skilled and skilled jewellers and artisans.”

While many incubatees will have already studied jewellery-making at various colleges and universities, The Platinum Incubator provides a technical and creative space for them to develop their own unique style and translate their scientific knowledge into an economically viable business.

Incubatees are also given the opportunity to work with PGMs, recycle precious metals, experiment with new alloys and prototype new designs in polymer using 3D printing techniques.

“3D printing, provides exciting industrialisation opportunities, especially when it comes to the 3D printing of PGMs,” says Shongwe. “We recently participated with the PlatForum consortium – a partnership comprising the Central University of Technology, North-West University, the Vaal University of Technology and Lonmin – to 3D print South Africa’s first pure platinum ring. This was a landmark moment, and it has paved the way for similar projects.”

The organisation continually researches new technologies, and is currently preparing to collaborate with partners to build capacity to 3D print PGMs in the future.

In addition, The Platinum Incubator is currently strategising to support more PGM application or production enterprises. Another key focus of the organisation is advocating the use of PGMs.

The Platinum Incubator participates regularly in career guidance expos, exhibitions, educational presentations and public briefing events, while hosting a number of open and market days each year. It is currently establishing an open source library in collaboration with various university and industry partners.

“As an industry, we can provide access to PGMs, specialised training and facilities, and the opportunity to work closely with some of the top academics and experts in the field,” concludes Shongwe. “That way, we can continue to ensure high-tech innovation, incubation and the opportunity to assist as many potential and developing enterprises with PGMs as possible.”