Duo find gap to clean up in environmental health sector
A MENTOR and mentee relationship resulted in a Joburg duo starting their own business after identifying a gap in the environmental health sector.
Lesego Tlou Ananias Kgolane, 29, and Mfundo Lionel Nkutha, 27, are both co-founders and co-directors of Enviroswitch, a 100 percent black-owned environmental health services company in Johannesburg.
Kgolane is responsible for operations and his “protégé” Nkutha takes care of business development.
The pair, who have a string of awards under their belts, met at Ekurhuleni Municipality in January last year. Nkutha, who holds a BTech in environmental health from the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT), did his community service at the Bertha Gxowa Hospital in Germiston.
He met Kgolane, who worked for the Ekurhuleni metro as an environmental health practitioner during the orientation week for his community service.
Kgolane, who holds a national diploma (cum laude) in environmental health from the University of Johannesburg (UJ), says he was drawn to Nkutha because of his inquisitive nature. When he was presenting to Nkutha’s group at the orientation, he noticed that Nkutha did most of the talking and asked lots of questions.
“After the orientation week I went to Bertha Gxowa Hospital to do inspections. I bumped into him (Nkutha) again as he was based there for his community service.
“I saw him going to work very early in the morning as I was driving to work one day. His sheer determination drew me to him. I told him that I would like to mentor him as he is new in the field. He agreed,” recalls Kgolane, who is now studying towards his Master’s degree in environmental health at UJ and expects to graduate cum laude next year.
Nkutha, who is registered with Regenesys Business School for his MBA and should be graduating in 2020, says it seemed strange when he received a call from Kgolane, offering to mentor him, because he considers him to be the same age as him.
Their relationship saw them laying some ground rules on how to grow their careers, and personal and financial aspects.
In February last year, they registered their company Enviroswitch, after identifying a gap in the “monopolised industry” that they operate in.
“We used our salaries to start this business without going through the process of applying for funding,” says Kgolane, who received an award for best innovative environmental health practitioner in Region A (Midrand) in 2012.
Kgolane, who was also honoured as the best student in the country by the South African Institute for Environmental Health in 2009, says the lack of compliance by small businesses, high unemployment rate and backlog of community service absorptions were some of the factors that prompted them to start their business.
Enviroswitch’s services include environmental health auditing and monitoring; occupational health and safety services; food safety auditing and monitoring; hygiene services; pest control and waste management.
Envirostwich’s services are geared towards small, medium and micro-enterprises, and the township and informal sectors which the duo say are largely ignored by the more established environmental health companies.
“We want to focus on township areas and small businesses that want to transform themselves into franchises.”
Their clients include Renvest Properties, Campus Africa, Mnandi Chickens, a hotel in Germiston, as well as an early childhood development centre.
“In the 10 months of operation our turnover is well over R300 000 and we have contracts for just over R1 million,” says Kgolane, adding that 10 percent of their profits go towards community development initiatives.
“We are inculcating a culture of giving in the company. We even donate blood.”
The company has 13 employees, including sub-contractors, and as part of their expansion plans they have teamed-up with Mila Cleaning Services, which counts as its clients Woolworths, Nedbank, Growthpoint Properties and ArcelorMittal.
The entrepreneurs, who are registered with the Health Professions Council of SA and have investments in properties, say they want an African footprint next year.
Nkutha, who used to run four kiosks at different CPUT residences selling basic necessities to students, thanked their families, colleagues and mentors for their continued support. Their mentors include renowned businesswoman Phuti Mahanyele, business moguls and brothers Paul and Jeremy Berman, and entrepreneurs Emmanuel Bonoko and Siyabonga Mncube.
“I want to particularly thank Dr Nokwethemba Mtshali-Hadebe, the chief executive of Bertha Gxowa Hospital. She’s the youngest chief executive in the country. She’s my life coach and has has played an important role in polishing me,” says Nkutha.
As part of giving back, Enviroswitch has a graduate programme where they grab the “cream of the crop” graduates from UJ and take them through the procedures on how the industry operates.
Enviroswitch co-founders and directors Lesego Kgolane and Mfundo Nkutha have been nominated for the 2017 Inaugural Gauteng City Region Youth Excellence and Service Awards.