/ 7 June 2019

Tip for Cabinet: Bet on innovators

Waste-Intrique, headed by Tshego Mpete, provides galvanised reservoirs and other water conservation and re-use services. (Oupa Nkosi/M&G)

Behind Clover’s head office in Roodepoort, a huge galvanised structure is being installed. Tshego Mpete, chief executive of Waste-Intrique Services, which installs these tanks, says it can store 80 000 litres of water.

Clover loses productivity when there are water shortages in the area caused by burst pipes, pumps not working or water-shedding. The reservoir, which stores water for five days, solves that problem.

Waste-Intrique Services, which also offers water conservation and re-use services, is featured in a report by Trade and Industrial Policy Strategies (Tips) on opportunities for small business in climate-change adaptation.

“Climate change is bringing new challenges, which small businesses can adapt to,” says Tips senior economist Gaylor Montmasson-Clair.

Small businesses that are succeeding in climate-related activities, including those in the food, energy and water sectors, are featured in the Tips report. Cases highlighted include hydroponic farming, water management, low-tech sanitation and IT-intensive agriculture.

Montmasson-Clair says: “We have a huge need to transform our economy. This is creating huge opportunities for new solutions, products and services, technologies.”

This offers potential for locally developed technology solutions to prosper.

AB Farms, is one such business in the food security sector. Run by two engineers, Mogale Maleka and Tumelo Pule, AB Farms is an agri-tech company that uses hydroponics, a method of growing plants without soil, using a mineral nutrient fed through water.

The Tips report says the company has had successes and failures: “AB Farms initially began supplying the Johannesburg Fresh Produce Market through intermediary agents. This was an easy channel to get into initially. However, this supply channel was fraught with difficulty as products were sold on a consignment basis and AB Farms was paid only when produce was sold. Revenues were erratic and uncertain, threatening the business cash flows.

“The business is moving away from the fresh market model to established and fixed supply contracts with private clients, large retailers and other large consumers such as hotels and restaurants.”

Sanitation company Loo Afrique, based in Pretoria, is headed by Rori Mpete. Like most entrepreneurs who start their businesses to address a specific need, Mpete’s idea came to him in 2016 when he was in the toilet at his grandmother’s house. Her wash-hand basin was broken.

“It was about my fourth visit to the toilet when I said to myself, ‘I can’t be going around the house just to wash my hands; I might as well wash my hands in the cistern,’” Mpete said.

As he washed his hands, he thought about the cistern being filled with clean water and it was at that point that the idea hit him: “If I can wash my hands in the cistern, it means I save water. Why can’t all South Africans wash their hands in the cistern?”

Loo Cap was created in his lightbulb moment. The product is a basin that replaces the lid of the cistern so that wastewater from hand-washing can be used for flushing.

Loo Afrique offers two other products — the Pee Basin, a urinal fitted with a basin, and the Evo Flush, which is a toilet system that uses three litres of water instead of the conventional six.

Mpete says the business makes money from sales to schools, but he aspires to widen his customer base.

He says his company needs support: “In South Africa, we can eradicate poverty through innovation, but the lack of support in this space is a hindrance. We hope the new Cabinet can take risks with innovating thinkers like ourselves.”

The Tips report notes that these businesses need to be financed by programmes that support sustainable growth.

“On the supply side, access to finance and market should be supported by dedicated programmes focused on entrepreneurs active in greening the economy. This is crucial to bridge the information asymmetry between entrepreneurs and financiers, who often do not understand the need for a just transition to a low-carbon, climate-resilient and environmentally sustainable economy,” the report says.

Tshegofatso Mathe is an Adamela Trust business reporter at the Mail & Guardian