Duo find gap to clean up in en­vi­ron­men­tal health sec­tor

Weekend Argus (Sunday Edition) - - SPORT - Luy­olo Mken­tane

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.

Fo­cus

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.

@luy­olomken­tane

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.

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