Tech entrepreneur develops solution to Gqeberha’s water crisis
“Technology is the gateway to solving many of the challenges and problems the world is currently facing. We will need more of the entrepreneurs who decide to act on their vision in the future. These are the words from Rodney Louis, Founder and CEO of Smart Vending.
He was born and raised in the small town of Palm Ridge in Bethelsdorp, just 20 kilometers from Gqeberha. Rodney grew up in a community that favored the simple life. “The area I grew up in was a low-income town with not many educational or business opportunities available to us. There were very few professions that we were introduced to as children. It wasn’t until I discovered gaming and later computers that I found my passion for technology,” says Rodney.
The IT profession is one of the most sought after in modern society, the telecommunications sector is the largest employer in 2021 and employs more than 22 thousand people according to the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA). “What I liked most about the IT space was that you could play in the end-user and designer spaces. I saw the potential in the implementation of technology, gaming and software packages. I started working at the municipality in a customer service position within the water management department. This is where I noticed a potential solution was missing,” adds Rodney.
I started working at the municipality in customer service
plays a role within the water management department.
This is where I noticed a possible solution was missing.
Nelson Mandela Bay’s upcoming Day Zero
The city of Gqeberha is part of the Nelson Mandela Bay Metropolitan Municipality (NMBM) region and is home to approximately 1.5 million South Africans. Known as the center of the country’s auto industry, beautiful beaches and friendly people, the region is currently facing a critical water problem, which the Ministry of Water and Sanitation has described as severe.
In 2016, the area was hit by a severe drought, and many of the dams and reservoirs did not recover despite the rainfall. At the end of August 2022, levels were reported at just 11%. Since early 2022, there have been various estimates of exactly when the dreaded Day Zero will fall, but government interventions and joint efforts by community groups and citizens in the NMBM have been successful in delaying total depletion. One such intervention that has the potential to make an impact at scale is the smart meter innovation of Rodney’s company, Smart Vending.
A technology-driven solution for intelligent water management
“We help our customers with an intelligent technological solution that enables better utility management. Our product range consists of smart card water meters and smart bulk water meters with data logging capabilities that allow customers to monitor their water usage online in real time. The key value proposition of our offering is that the technology we use can save our customers money by reducing water usage and uncovering unknown leaks on the property,” explains Rodney.
First incorporated in 2017, JR Prodigy Venture, now trading as Smart Vending, is a business that has always wanted to make a big impact. In just five years, the size, revenue and opportunities of the business have grown.
The possibility of the technology used by Smart Vending to help the water crisis in Gqeberha is also constantly increasing. “Through our intelligent water management, our technology allows us to control water leakage by automating the flow of water in the building, thereby reducing unnecessary water wastage. To date, we have installed our smart meters in a few municipal buildings in the Nelson Mandela Bay region, providing immediate value to our customer in terms of water bill savings,” says Rodney.
Challenges as an entrepreneur
“The biggest challenge is funding when you leave your formal job to become an entrepreneur. Starting out as a tech entrepreneur can be difficult. It helps you connect with others who are already there to support the journey,” comments Rodney.
In a country such as South Africa where the need for more entrepreneurs in the economy is crucial, the importance of supporting entrepreneurship to ensure the sustainable growth of such businesses cannot be understated. “My entrepreneurial journey to incubation began when I joined the Nelson Mandela Bay Innovation Hub (iHub). There I came across the Innovator Trust Enterprise Development (ED) program offered to entrepreneurs. I applied, I got in, and this was a brilliant opportunity that came my way,” says Rodney.
The Innovator Trust’s ED program is very specifically aimed at businesses with primarily IT-based services. During the 24-month incubation period, SMEs cover core business knowledge areas such as finance, marketing, technical support and development, as well as areas such as presentation, media, pitching, while accessing a mentor and tailored business coaching workshops can also access it.
A look ahead
“My ultimate goal of Smart Vending is to be one of the leaders in the country and Africa in the offer of smart technologies. I see the water crisis and utility management as a growing problem, and I see myself as someone who can contribute to solving the problem with the help of technology. Being honest as a company about our customers’ problems, we believe this will be our success factor in future growth,” says Rodney.
For more information on available products and services, visit the Smart Vending company website: www.smartvending.co.za.