Change the world

13/10/2021

From a matric side hustle to a growing business with potential for global success, energy entrepreneurs Kwanda Jakalase and Randolph Bruce Meth say a national competition has helped to give them international wings. 

Nelson Mandela University commerce students Jakalase, 26, and Meth, 26, won the 2020 Red Bull Basement competition for their renewable energy innovation, and last week they were in Gqeberha on a roadshow to promote the 2021 event.

Jakalase and Meth were still at school in Mthatha when they devised their first biogas project in 2014.

Since then, they have taken their entrepreneurial streak and built an award-winning company, Silicon Energy Technology, that is attracting millions of rand in investment.

“We were involved in a biogas project and then we explored other forms of renewable energy,” Meth said of how their partnership started in matric in 2014.

“With extensive research and feasibility studies we took interest in solar and realised it was an untapped market in SA at the time.”

Since then, they have been developing and innovating, with the result being chosen to represent SA as one of 38 finalists in the global student Red Bull Basement programme.

More than 3,800 student teams from around the world applied for the 2020 programme.

The Gqeberha pair’s idea is a solar-powered generator, called the Mitha Solar Power Generator, which uses solar energy to power up appliances through solar PV panels and batteries.

It is a portable uninterrupted power supply (UPS) that can power the charging of devices like phones and laptops.

It can also be used to power lights, kettles and microwaves.

It has an expandable battery system and can be controlled via WiFi.

“Our vision as students and entrepreneurs is clear we want to provide clean and affordable alternative energy to better our country and continent,” Meth said.

“As students, we seek solutions that are practically feasible and economically viable for on-campus life as well as the community at large.”

They are hoping Silicon Energy Technology will continue to grow.

“We’re aiming at building a billion-dollar industry,” Jakalase said, outlining how the Red Bull win had helped their young business.

“We learnt how to pitch to investors and what things global experts look at when it comes to a product.

“We also learnt not to look at SA as an isolated country but let’s look at Africa as one country.

“Then we might have the chance to actually get where we want to go because electricity is a very big crisis in Africa and our product aligns with that.”

Meth is in his final year of a BCom in financial planning while Jakalase has completed his first degree and will move on to study engineering next year.

“Even though I studied commerce, I’m quite a techie person. I had a passion about electricity from a very young age,” Jakalase said.

They both credit the university’s Faculty of Business and

Economic Sciences with teaching them key skills.

In past years, the competition prize included participation in global workshops, held in Berlin (2018) and Toronto (2019) so far.

Meth said that though the 2020 event was held online due to Covid restrictions on international travel, it was still amazing to interact with students from 35 countries.

Solar Energy Technology was registered in 2019 and originally was an incubator project with Propella in Humerail, but it has grown to the extent that it needs its own factory to manufacture generators.

Jakalase said the Eastern Cape department of economic development had approved their funding application for the Isiqalo Youth Fund Award, though they were waiting to hear the next step.

“We applied for funding of R3m and it was awarded to us, though we haven’t yet received that funding,” he said.

Already, though, Silicon is growing and Meth and Jakalase have two other partners in their head of engineering Asemahle Rasana and head of design Vivante Mhlekwa.

“We’ll look into commercial release in the next year or so, setting up a factory in East London or Gqeberha,” Meth said.

“Our future plans are to scale up Silicon and potentially open offices in Johannesburg, catering to the demand for renewable energy solutions, both for households and the private sector, and the public sector.

“We’re looking to grow the company and create employment and ensure that people don’t feel the impact of load-shedding.”

Entries for Red Bull Basement close on October 24.

This article appeared in The Herald (South Africa) on 8 October 2021 written by Gillian McAinsh

POWERING AHEAD: Randolph Bruce Meth, left, and Kwanda Jakalase of Silicon Energy Technology. Picture: MPUMELELO MACU

Contact information
Mrs Karen Snyman
Student Life & Events Manager
Tel: 0415043561
Karen.Snyman@mandela.ac.za