In other rodent-related news, my friend Karen recently extricated herself from the corporate rat race to establish a catering business. She and I spent some time together last week investigating options for her new venture.
In just two days, we encountered, among others: a young man marketing “artisanal spring water, which is perfectly balanced with a pH of seven”; a home-run business that sells catering disposables and food packaging made of recycled, biodegradable materials; a winemaker turned cidermaker, whose range of apple and pear ciders from Elgin are creating something of a fizz in the restaurant trade; and a young woman with a “gourmet and custom cupcakery” that’s hitting the sweet spot with her cupcake concoctions, which include ingredients like chilli chocolate, Piña Colada, beer, peanut butter and jam, white chocolate and caviar, and bacon, cinnamon and maple syrup.
Yes, I know – there are still way too few entrepreneurs in this country. With the rate of unemployment hovering around 25%, we desperately need more self-starters and, in an ideal world, they’d all establish businesses that create loads of jobs for others. But that doesn’t mean we should disregard micro-enterprises or non-employer businesses.
According to a 2008 report by the Department of Trade and Industry, about 36% of South Africa’s SMMEs (Small Medium and Micro Enterprises) are micro-enterprises, which account for 27-34% of total gross domestic product. In other words, millions of South Africans rely on one-person businesses for their livelihood, which makes ideas, products and technology that people can quickly and inexpensively tap into crucial to our economy.
One such technology is the eChaja portable solar-powered charger, which was developed in Ballito near Durban and Matsapha in Swaziland by a company called Mikro Lite. The kit, which is available from the company in a nifty carry bag, comprises a base unit with a solar panel, transformer and six outlets. It also comes with a brightly coloured eChaja-branded vest and cap to identify agents. Weighing less than ten kilograms, the ‘business in a bag’ is easy to transport and can be set up anywhere under the sun to charge customers’ cellphones. No Eskom required.
Handsets are connected to the eChaja via cigarette lighter sockets similar to those found in cars. Each lead is colour-coded and customers receive correspondingly tokens to prevent phones getting mix up. The device features separate timers for each socket, which means agents can set individual times for charging and charge each client accordingly.
The eChaja website (www.echaja.com) even provides prospective agents with an online system that calculates how many phones they need to charge per day to cover the initial cost and generate profit.
What’s more, at night, the device can be used to illuminate a 24 Volt DC corn LED bulb, which means it’s not only a great tool for budding entrepreneurs but also…eChaja of the light brigade.
(This article was first published as my technology column in Business Day in April 2013.)