Behind the new, 100% black-owned start-up, Dlamini Chemicals, is the trail-blazing Nomandla Ngcoya, named as one of the Mail & Guardian’s Top 200 Young South Africans in Science and Technology in 2016.
The University of KwaZulu-Natal PhD candidate completed a BSc in Chemistry and Chemical Technology. She is currently investigating the synthesis, biological evaluation and molecular docking of coumarin-curcumin hybrids in her doctoral research, as well as running her business.
Ngcoya founded the Pinetown-based Dlamini Chemicals in July 2016 with Lindiwe Nxele and Nontobeko Dlamini. The trio established the company after learning (through door-to-door studies they were doing in rural communities) about how dire the need for affordable detergents was to improve sanitation in these areas.
Ngcoya says here biggest inspiration is her love of independence and her fear of mediocrity, leading her to put her academic and research expertise to work to establish a solution to a problem she saw. Her research and laboratory skills and knowledge of chemicals have aided her in prototype development, as well as in recovering chemical products damaged during the manufacturing process.
Starting a company was difficult in terms of finding funding, leading Ngcoya and her colleagues to search for innovative solutions. The three of them had to learn on the go, with only their goals as a guidance as they developed their entrepreneurial skills through practice. Ngcoya advised prospective entrepreneurs to seek out ways to learn business management, financial management and marketing skills. She also credited the assistance of the Durban Chemical Cluster as vital for their project implementation.
Dlamini Chemicals’ products are currently being sold in rural areas and townships, with the group working to get the products barcoded to allow for marketing in mainstream retail stores. Their strategy thus far has been to introduce products that are similar to those consumers are familiar with, and then gradually introduce customers to more innovative products, such as a washing powder that does not require rinsing. They are applying their in-house expertise to this together with the Technology Innovation Agency, who are also funding Dlamini Chemicals.
Ngcoya advised that something worth pursuing like this takes time to manifest, but added that it is worth it to learn the skills that enable one to be self-sufficient. While she says her profit margins may seem small currently, she did not have this profit before, and it motivates her to keep improving.
Patience is key in entrepreneurship, and that cannot be taught,’ said Ngcoya.
She encouraged prospective entrepreneurs to be innovative, and especially to learn the difference between incremental and radical innovation to ensure the success of one’s company. She encouraged graduates to be risk takers and seize opportunities, and to put in the extra effort constantly.