MIN­ING EN­TREPRENEURS

Two young South African sci­en­tists de­cided to mine their ex­pe­ri­ence and start their own busi­ness, writes Lucas Led­waba

CityPress - - Business -

The con­stant threat of falling vic­tim to the scourge of re­trench­ments in the min­ing sec­tor in­spired two en­ter­pris­ing young­sters to work to­wards be­com­ing their own bosses in the in­dus­try. Sharon Musi­iwa Mugubi (28) and Munei Rapha­lalani (31) are now the own­ers of Ronewa An­a­lyt­i­cal Lab­o­ra­tory, which pro­vides coal test­ing and anal­y­sis.

As a start-up in 2013, with no cap­i­tal or a clien­tele his­tory, the odds were heav­ily stacked against them.

“Ac­cess to fund­ing was a ma­jor chal­lenge for us as most fund­ing in­sti­tu­tions were not pre­pared to take a risk to fund a start-up en­tity,” said Mugubi.

Rapha­lalani said that, as a start-up busi­ness, build­ing a clien­tele base was not easy “be­cause min­ing com­pa­nies were not will­ing to give us a chance”.

But they were de­ter­mined to suc­ceed, and turned ad­ver­sity into an op­por­tu­nity.

They ap­plied for a loan from the In­dus­trial De­vel­op­ment Cor­po­ra­tion (IDC) to help them fund the pur­chase of equip­ment and ve­hi­cles re­quired to set up their op­er­a­tions in Lim­popo’s cap­i­tal, Polok­wane.

“The ex­pe­ri­ence was quite chal­leng­ing, but it was worth it. The ap­pli­ca­tion process was vig­or­ous and the IDC ex­pected a lot from us, but, in the end, we lived up to the ex­pec­ta­tions and stan­dards,” said Rapha­lalani.

Mugubi said: “The IDC has not only as­sisted us with fund­ing, it has also pro­vided guid­ance and busi­ness sup­port pro­grammes, which we des­per­ately needed as start-up en­trepreneurs.”

Ronewa has since se­cured a two-year con­tract from Uni­ver­sal Coal to carry out lab­o­ra­tory coal test­ing ser­vices at the com­pany’s coal projects in Lim­popo and Mpumalanga.

They are ex­pected to an­a­lyse the sam­ples and com­mu­ni­cate to Uni­ver­sal within two work­ing days of re­ceiv­ing the coal.

They are also ex­pected to de­liver ser­vices that fol­low stan­dards of prac­tice recog­nised by first-class lab­o­ra­to­ries that per­form sim­i­lar work un­der sim­i­lar cir­cum­stances.

Uni­ver­sal said it had taken Ronewa on board as part of its en­ter­prise de­vel­op­ment ini­tia­tive, and that Ronewa would also ser­vice its mines in Mpumalanga, 250km from Polok­wane.

Look­ing back, the two be­lieve they made the right de­ci­sion by be­com­ing en­trepreneurs in­stead of em­ploy­ees.

“We chose to be in charge of our des­tiny to have sta­bil­ity and com­fort,” said Rapha­lalani.

Rapha­lalani has more than seven years of ex­pe­ri­ence in the min­ing sec­tor with a B-Tech qual­i­fi­ca­tion in met­al­lur­gi­cal en­gi­neer­ing. His train­ing in the in­dus­try varies from lab­o­ra­tory op­er­a­tion to plant su­per­vi­sion.

“This is where I gained ex­pe­ri­ence in the anal­y­sis of a wide range of min­er­als, in­clud­ing coal, met­al­lur­gi­cal coal [cok­ing coal], chrome, lime­stone and dolomite,” he said.

Mugubi grad­u­ated with a na­tional diploma and a B-Tech in an­a­lyt­i­cal chem­istry. She also holds a post­grad­u­ate diploma in op­er­a­tions man­age­ment and a mas­ters of busi­ness ad­min­is­tra­tion from North-West Univer­sity.

She started as a trainee stu­dent and worked her way up un­til she be­came the youngest qual­ity as­sur­ance man­ager at AfriSam ce­ment group.

“Be­ing pas­sion­ate about what we do in­flu­enced us to start Ronewa An­a­lyt­i­cal Lab­o­ra­tory. We also wanted to play a mean­ing­ful role in our coun­try by curb­ing the high un­em­ploy­ment rate that South Africa faces,” said Mugubi.

But they warn that be­ing your own boss is not for every­one.

“If en­trepreneur­ship was so easy, every­one – or most peo­ple – would be do­ing it. For us to suc­ceed, we had to stand out and be dif­fer­ent. We took daily steps to­wards our dream. Through prayer, ded­i­ca­tion, hard work and per­sis­tence, we pros­pered.”

Al­though the busi­ness was es­tab­lished in 2013, it took the pair a long and hard four years to get it to where it is now. They iden­tify the IDC loan as a break­through.

Ronewa is now in the process of be­ing ac­cred­ited by the SA Na­tional Ac­cred­i­ta­tion Sys­tem, which is the only ac­cred­i­ta­tion body that cer­ti­fies South African lab­o­ra­to­ries to in­ter­na­tional stan­dards.

They work in a tough, com­pet­i­tive and strict in­dus­try that re­quires high stan­dards as their work en­tails analysing coal for phys­i­cal and chem­i­cal prop­er­ties.

“An­a­lyt­i­cal lab­o­ra­to­ries are used for this pur­pose to de­ter­mine the rank of coal along with its in­trin­sic char­ac­ter­is­tics,” said Rapha­lalani.

The com­pany’s work­force has grad­u­ally grown from two em­ploy­ees to five full-time work­ers. They are an­tic­i­pat­ing fur­ther growth to more than 40 staff this year. But this is not the end of it – they are aim­ing even higher. “We be­lieve the fu­ture is surely bright for us. Ronewa plans to ex­pand to many re­gions in South Africa and beyond, which is a strat­egy that we have al­ready be­gan to ini­ti­ate. We would like to play a mean­ing­ful role in our coun­try, which has a high youth un­em­ploy­ment rate. Our plan is to em­ploy and train grad­u­ates who are in dire need of jobs.”

PHOTO: LUCAS LED­WABA / MUKURUKURU ME­DIA

MIN­ING SUCCESS Sharon Mugubi and Munei Rapha­lalani run the Ronewa An­a­lyt­i­cal Lab­o­ra­tory, which was set up in 2013. The busi­ness ser­vices coal mines in the Lim­popo and Mpumalanga ar­eas

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