Pow­ered by cell power

Sys­tem to pre-pay your elec­tric­ity

Finweek English Edition - - Cover - JO­HANN VAN ZYL

AWARDS PROB­A­BLY DON’T guar­an­tee prof­its, but the at­ten­tion they bring to the com­pany is usu­ally of great value.

“Last year was our great prize-win­ning year,” says Wal­ter Smuts, MD of the new tech­nol­ogy com­pany, Ex­pertron, the first com­pany to sign a lease with Pre­to­ria’s In­no­va­tion Hub (a project of the CSIR, the Univer­sity of Pre­to­ria and Blue IQ). “Af­ter six years in the tech­nol­ogy in­dus­try with dif­fer­ent prod­ucts, our Cell Power prod­uct did it for us.”

Last year, Cell Power won the Eskom-spon­sored Pre­pay­ment In­no­va­tion Award and two SPII awards of the De­part­ment of Trade and In­dus­try ahead of 112 other com­pa­nies. The crown­ing glory was when Ex­pertron was cho­sen as the most in­no­va­tive IT com­pany in Africa.

Smuts says that the Tsh­wane metro coun­cil has been us­ing Ex­pertron’s Cell Power tech­nol­ogy since 2005 to sell pre­paid elec­tric­ity in res­i­den­tial ar­eas through a deal­er­ship net­work. “All th­ese deal­ers need is a cell­phone and a de­posit of R5 000 to be­come in­volved as an in­de­pen­dent power dealer with the metro coun­cil. The metro coun­cil then pays 5% com­mis­sion on turnover.”

About 180 deal­ers are al­ready op­er­at­ing in the area, and the most suc­cess­ful earn up to R5 500 a month on a turnover of about R125 000. Their com­bined monthly turnover is about R3m. “For the metro coun­cil, this gives peace of mind, be­cause the deal­ers are avail­able at all hours and be­cause they don’t have to in­stall and main­tain im­per­sonal vend­ing ma­chines that can cost R100 000 each and can be van­dalised.”

The con­cept is sim­ple: the deal­ers, who are usu­ally well known in the area where they work, sell power time (sim­i­lar to cell­phone time) by sim­ply is­su­ing a power coupon with an exclusive num­ber for the rel­e­vant amount. The buyer then punches in the num­ber at his house and power for that par­tic­u­lar amount will be avail­able to him.

“The deal­ers write the num­ber down on a piece of pa­per, so they don’t need spe­cial print- ers for it,” says Ex­pertron co-di­rec­tor, Gavin Eh­lers.

Eh­lers says Ex­pertron is ne­go­ti­at­ing with at least three other metro coun­cils on sim­i­lar schemes, but all have dif­fer­ent mod­els that re­quire dif­fer­ent tech­nol­ogy. “The coun­cils wel­come us, be­cause the sys­tem works and, in ad­di­tion, cre­ates jobs.”

Ne­go­ti­a­tions are also un­der way to mar­ket Cell Power in North and South Amer­ica.

Some of the other prod­ucts de­vel­oped by Smuts and Eh­lers, both elec­tronic en­gi­neers, and their team of de­vel­op­ment en­gi­neers, un­der the lead­er­ship of Justin Schoe­man (also a share­holder) are Cell-ID and eX­tream, a band­width man­age­ment prod­uct that helps com­pa­nies to use band­width more ef­fi­ciently (and there­fore more cheaply).

“We try to de­velop tech­nol­ogy so­lu­tions for SA for which there are no over­seas prod­ucts,” Eh­lers says. “But in or­der to stay alive un­til ev­ery­thing makes money, we also do con­tract work in the IT in­dus­try and de­velop other cell­phone busi­ness ap­pli­ca­tions. We’ve also de­vel­oped soft­ware that’s used by the track­ing in­dus­try.”

Both direc­tors agree that the pres­ence of sev­eral other young com­pa­nies, largely tech­nol­ogy com­pa­nies with ex­cel­lent ideas, in the In­no­va­tion Hub is valu­able to them.

MD Wal­ter Smuts and co-di­rec­tor, Gavin Eh­lers

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