Scholarpreneur: Ntsako Mgiba
Date of birth: 10 May 1995
Academic pursuit: Bachelor of Science (Mechatronics) (2014 – 2017) at the University of Cape Town.
Current business: Jonga (Pty.) Ltd. (www.jonga.co)
Getting to know Ntsako
Growing up, nothing was handed to him. Both of his parents instilled a work ethic in him – working hard for something and being justly rewarded for it. An example of this was whenever he wanted something, like a game console, his parents would have him raise half of the money on his own and would then fund the rest, being reassured that their son put in his share of ‘sweat equity’ to get what he wanted. He believes that it was that sense of responsibility for oneself that was pivotal in moulding his entrepreneurial spirit from a young age. His dad, especially, would encourage his son to challenge him while growing up, as a way to build confidence in Ntsako. As a businessman himself, his dad has stood as a prime example for Ntsako. He looks up to his dad for more than just the obvious reasons. Ntsako praises his dad for raising him to think independently and instilling a strong work ethic that serves him well in his studies and business. Outside his family, he looks up to the likes of Guy Kawasaki and Vusi Thembekwayo – strong entrepreneurial-driven individuals who believe in challenging the status quo.
Ntsako considers himself as being ambitious for as long as he can remember. In his high school years, he took on a lot in his plate for the average scholar – balancing academics with a heavy dose of sports and extra-mural activities. Technology is a space that has always fascinated him. He aspired to be an inventor from a young age, and those ambitions were correlated by the math and science-related subjects he took at school – and continues today, pursuing a degree in Mechatronics. His mission, through technology, has always been “creating something that has meaning”.
Ntsako and Business
Ntsako has had numerous entrepreneurial endeavours prior to Jonga. He did car washing at the apartment complex he lived in; he baked and sold muffins, and painted and sold artworks, amongst other things – all were little schemes to make money. These small ventures are far-fetched compared to the work he does now with Anga, a design consultancy, and Jonga, a security technology start-up.
Upon visiting his aunt in a township in Witbank, he had the dreadful experience of being victim of a house robbery – his aunt’s house and other houses in the neighbourhood had been robbed. He believes that if he had been alerted of another house’s break-in, something could have been done to prevent other break-ins in the area. So, two problems surfaced from this observation: crime, obviously, and the response time of the police. By the time police arrive at the crime scene the worst has already happened and very little can be done to remedy the situation. This was the problem Ntsako and his team seek to solve through Jonga – connecting a community and have them share valuable information in specific regards to security.
Ntsako views Jonga as a social project – what they want to achieve is getting their systems into as many households as possible. A challenge for them is getting the production cost low enough that everyone can afford their security product – and eliminate having security as a privilege that only a few can afford. The revenue model as it stands is two-fold: there is an upfront payment for the device and app, and a monthly instalment.
In order for Jonga to work in these target communities, the residents have to have a smart phone in order to access the app; many residents in these lower-income communities might not have access to smart phones in the first place. In addressing this concern, Ntsako asserts that the smart phone penetration in under-developed areas such as the townships of South Africa is a lot more than people would generally think. The maximum functionality of the system comes from having the app, but that doesn’t exclude non-smart phone holders, as SMS’s can work as well for people to alert each other.
Raising funding, understandably, has been a challenge for the start-up. Fortunately for the Jonga team, they have had the pleasure of taking part in numerous start-up accelerators and incubators that helped them to better their business model and connect them to people and businesses that could assist. The biggest challenge for Jonga has been navigating community dynamics in South Africa. The cultural diversity and income inequality has a lot to do with how each community operates under completely different norms from the other. For example, not all communities are close-knit and/or see a need to connect with their neighbours. Ntsako and his team have found that certain under-developed areas don’t particularly need an alarm system of any sort because the community is aware of the crime perpetrators and an alarm system won’t particularly address the crime itself. On the other extreme end, well-developed suburbs already have adequate and responsive security measures in place. Even with these challenges, the Ntsako and the Jonga team stay level-headed in their pursuit of making South Africa safer.
There’s an incredible team of youngsters working alongside Ntsako to realise Jonga’s vision. He considers his team as “a match made in heaven”, as everyone contributes significantly to the vision of Jonga and their skills complement each other. The best thing about the Jonga team is that they are not constrained to their defined role. This is a common thing in most start-ups – everyone wears multiple hats and there is a strong collaborative effort in the business.
Ntsako believes that the ecosystem for business in South Africa has never been as conducive as it is now. He believes this is the time for young people to go out and explore their ideas. A lack of information and resources hinder young (and mostly black) entrepreneurs from taking progressive action. Ntsako thinks that more and more companies in the private sector should step-up to fund young businesses, that they can either absorb or add value to in some way. He also believes that government should do more to create awareness for the problems we face so that the general public can be empowered to take action. Other great platforms to launch businesses include incubators and accelerators, which helped Jonga tremendously along the way, and Ntsako thinks these programmes should be supported more by people and government.
On an educational level, an early start in entrepreneurship needs to be encouraged and nurtured in primary schools. Ntsako agrees that entrepreneurship is a life skill and should be promoted and treated as such in basic education level. This is where a subject such as Life Orientation (LO) can be used – redesigning its curriculum to include the soft skills that make an entrepreneur. Our education system doesn’t encourage creative thinking and it is about time we address this head on if we want an active citizenry taking progressive action to take the country forward.