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Science, medicine and agriculture: 3 winning ideas from the Total StartUpper competition

Starting a successful business relies on a great idea, a solid plan, a little bit of risk, and a truckload of dedication. Recently, as part of an initiative from the Total Group (AMO), aimed at empowering entrepreneurs within Africa Middle East, the Total StartUpper campaign launched a competition for young entrepreneurs to submit their business proposals and motivation for funding. To help spread the word and get to grips with the ins and outs of the entrepreneur startup cycle we conducted written and video interviews with entrepreneurs about the business of starting a business, the nuts and bolts of a solid business plan, as well as had candid discussions about failure, and how you measure success

The Total Startupper winners have now been announced! South Africa saw three of its very own being awarded, each entrepreneur having submitted a unique, innovative and impactful business idea aimed at improving conditions in the areas of science, medicine, and agriculture respectively. We caught up with the three winners to find out a bit more about their successful idea, how they approached the design of each product, and where they’ll take them from here.  

Total Startuppers

1st Prize: Nkazimulo Applied Sciences, Kwa-Zulu Natal

Bathabile and Roderick Mpofu’s startup, Nkazimulo Applied Sciences, is a company that assists high school learners with gaining a closer relationship with science concepts. The startup creates chemistry kits called ChemStart which contain 52 different experiments to be used safely at home. This initiative helps learners apply their minds to the sciences from the comfort of their own homes and ensures the experiments link back to the high school curriculum. For Bhathabile, the concept is a personal one. Having failed her first year of chemistry and spending the rest of her high school career trying to catch up, Bathabile said she realised the importance of having access to equipment like a chemistry set that can be used at home. 

“Had I had a kit like this, I am certain I would not have battled at varsity the way I did. The experiments use items found in the kit which include chemicals and some lab apparatus. Some experiments include items found in the home such as sugar, baking powder, sweets etc. and the idea is to make learners aware that they interact with science on a daily basis.”


2nd Prize: Senovate, Mpumalanga

Themba Sehawu is a product developer and founder of Senovate. He came up with an innovative fruit picking machine that allows people to harvest fruit without having to elevate themselves. By taking care of picking, pruning and placing all at once, the agricultural tool increases safety and efficiency when harvesting for the large agriculture sector in South Africa.

Themba explains that his aunt, who was a fruit picker, would often come home with cuts and bruises on her arms from having to harvest fruit from high reaching branches. He was inspired by her to design the fruit picker and now has the funding to carry out distribution of his prototype. 

“I received a grant from TIA (R380, 000) for the making of the prototype, that went into paying for designers at the Design Institute for conceptualisation and making decisions about materials and shapes that were both durable and light weight. The prototype was then constructed using 3D printing.”  


3rd Prize: ConnectMed, Gauteng

ConnectMed was founded by Oyena Zwelijongile Gwebityala, Melissa McCoy, Smisosenkosi Skosana and Sekeitto Allan-Roy. It’s an online telemedicine platform which essentially connects certified doctors with those in need through video, text and machine learning-based tools. The platform is low cost, high quality and is accessible to those in need, ultimately ensuring that professional medical advice is available at the push of a button. 

Smisosenkosi says that with the much needed prize money, the team can now afford to have a successful launch this winter and cover all technology fees, doctor indemnity insurance, and marketing costs for the first six months of operation. On the design of the platform, Smisosenkosi explains, 

“We took inspiration from similar platforms in the UK, US, India, and China for the basic layout and then did A/B testing with South African patients and doctors to determine the best UI. We chose softer, lighter colours (now lavender and rose) and these colours communicate health, life, and renewal to patients.”

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Read more about the Total StartUpper initiative here and watch the discussions on failure and success below.   

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