We continue with our entrepreneurs’ blog. This week we focus on two innovations that were part of the 2017 SA Innovation Summit and who have been selected to pitch at the local finals of the global social entrepreneurship competition the Chivas Venture.
James van der Walt and his partner Lungi Tyali impressed judges with their innovation, Solar Turtle at the Summit and were the first prize winners of the Inventor’s Garage competition.
What is Solar Turtle?
SolarTurtle design and build solar powered shipping containers that one can use as a mobile energy platform. The inside of the container can be offices, shops, banks, etc. However, above all SolarTurtle is women empowerment social businesses that hope to start energy kiosk businesses in rural communities that don’t have power. According to James, they use their solar container technology and convert the inside into an energy spaza. These secure spazashops can sell electricity anywhere in the world securely and safely. Inside is a solar battery charging station that can recharge any battery one can think of. So community members drop off their phones for recharging. It’s called a turtle for the way the system fold-away into the hard shell of the container for safe keeping. In the words of James: “We live in South Africa after all and crime is an issue. We designed our energy platform to survive SA’s harsh realities“.
What impact will your product have?
We hope that our energy kiosk businesses will bring light and prosperity to communities that currently far removed from the grid. These shops create employment in the green economy and supplies locals with a secure place where they can charge their phones and buy energy efficient products like LED lights. The kiosks are actually designed to cater for the basic electrification needs at high schools. One container can provide basic power needed for e-learning, lights and also brings internet to the community.
What has being part of the 2017 SA Innovation Summit and winning the 2017 Inventors’ Garage competition meant for your business?
The SA innovation Summit has opened many doors and has surely helped us reach new highs. The networking and the technology on display was truly inspiring. It was also at the SA Innovation Summit that I spotted the Chivas Venture applications and I decided to enter.
Solar Turtle has been selected as one of the top five South African finalists to pitch at the local finals of the Chivas Venture, global social entrepreneurship competition, how do you feel about that?
Chivas Regal hosts an international award for any business that might have a positive impact on world. They want to promote the ethics of doing business with integrity. Making money at any cost is going to ruin the planet we all share. We are extremely proud that they have voted SolarTurtle as one of their top 5 impact businesses of 2018 out of hundreds of entries. It really is morel boost we need to keep going. We know we are onto something big here!
What challenges are you facing with while building your product?
Investors have been a tough nut to crack. We have the technology and are already producing these solar containers for customers. We also have a very successful energy kiosk pilot running in the Transkei. Now the challenge is just find an investor that has the same philosophy as us. For us at SolarTurtle integrity is vital and business is often a cut throat environment. Once we find the right investor we hope to launch SolarTurtle into the rest of Africa as well. It is all about making the right partnerships.
What advice would you give to entrepreneurs or those looking to start their own business?
Networking is your bread and butter for a new business. Go meet and talk to as many people about your idea. You need solid partners to take a product to market. You must of course be willing to let go a portion of your business but before you sign away everything make sure they are a good match for you. We typically have a 6-12 month trail run at the start. This should quickly highlight whether the partnership is working. If it doesn’t walk away. You don’t want to be in an unhappy marriage, and then the business is sure to fail.