Powered by cell power
System to pre-pay your electricity
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