Thursday, 02 June
21 Dec 2021
Three entrepreneurs, all students at the University of Cape Town, who developed a device that can help South Africans stay connected during load shedding, are reaping the rewards of their hard work.
The three students from Claremont, Gardens and Muizenberg designed a cleverly reusable device, called a WiBOX, which has already sold more than 5 000 units since its launch last year.
The device specifically keeps modems, routers and fibre boxes on when power outages strike.
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Brian Gadisi, Alan Gie and Thembalethu Hadebe, all 24 years old, told News24 that they met in their business class at the university and instantly developed a bond.
“We were part of a Postgraduate Diploma in Entrepreneurship, also known as the Genesis Programme. One of the assessments was that we had to come up with a business idea that would benefit ordinary people. We had to research it, finance it and make it market-friendly,” said Gadisi.
According to the three, load shedding had just made a “come back” in 2019, which caused them major frustrations as they couldn’t do comprehensive research with the lights being off.
This sparked the idea of developing the WiBOX.
“We launched the product with the funds that we generated by selling cakes on the UCT campus back in March last year. Since then, the business has been self-funded through the assistance of family and friends. Our company, Arion Power, acquired its first expansionary round of funding from SEDA (Small Enterprise Developing Agency) this year, which will certainly help in the expansion of the business,” Gadisi added.
“The WiBOX idea came about during the first return of load shedding in 2019. I was frustrated that, during load shedding, it was impossible to access the internet through cellular data, and the products on the market were all unaffordable, with inverters being pretty much the only solution. We had to do something that would take the frustration of load shedding away,” said Gie.
The device is a compact and affordable Uninterrupted Power Supply (UPS) solution designed to keep you online during power outages and load shedding.
The WiBox is permanently plugged into the wall socket and your devices. There are two supplied leads, one to power your router and the other to power your fibre box if required.During a power outage, the box will automatically switch from Eskom power to battery power, providing you with an uninterrupted connection.
When the power switches back on the device will automatically switch from battery mode towall power mode – charging the WiBox and powering the router and fibre box.
“It’s so cool. We’ve seen a significant number of companies and people purchasing our devices for their gain. It’s wonderful to see how we can make people’s lives a tiny bit better with our creation,” he added.
According to the trio, one of their highlights was when a major insurance company wanted to purchase their devices.
“To receive a call from a big company was amazing. The company believed so much in our devices that they purchased numerous devices for their employees who are working from home,” said an excited Hadebe. The youngsters, who started their business in a garage in Muizenberg, have moved premises to the Capricorn Business Park where they now manufacture their devices.
“We’ve managed to create and maintain six permanent employment opportunities, which is great news. And hopefully, we’ll be able to triple that as the years go by,” Hadebe said.
While WiBOX are an apparent necessity and in-demand product, the young entrepreneurs quickly realised that they were onto something “revolutionary” following the first round of load shedding and the response from the public.
“We always realised the potential. But our first meeting with a major corporate chief information officer (CIO), and the numbers he was talking about with regards to potentially providing our solution to all his employees, was mind-blowing,” said Hadebe.
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These devices are not only transforming several industries, but simultaneously collecting significant awards along the way. The three recently won the 2020 Genesis Award and now hold the record for highest revenue by any member of the cohort class since the inception of the Genesis Programme at the university.
“The launch of the product is a much-needed reminder of black talent and the ability to recognise gaps in the market, and how to remedy these gaps. In a matter of months, Arion Power has proven itself to not only be a luxury, but an absolute necessity as the country continues to navigate its way through load shedding,” added Gadisi.
The youngsters believe that incorporating WiBOX into people’s everyday lives will quickly become a much-needed “light at the end of the tunnel”.
“These devices are what separates those who are able to continue their operations during an outage and those who can not. Even on a more personal level, maintaining access to the internet is instrumental for those who are continuing to work remotely and households with children that continue with online learning and examinations,” said Gie.
The future looks bright for these young entrepreneurs as they continue to strive to create sustainable, affordable energy, and power solutions available to everyone.
“We hope to actively emerge ourselves in the consumer electronic space and battery manufacturing as well,” added Gadisi.
SA Money Daily
The biggest business, economic and market news of the day, by Fin24 deputy editor, Ahmed Areff.
25 Jun 2021
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