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Drones By Africa, For Africa

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As a boy, there was never any doubt what Adam Rosman would do when he was older.

“Aviation fascinated me. My friends and I used to build model rockets and fly them at the school fields. I then decided I wanted to be an aeronautical engineer,” he says.

Rosman studied aeronautical engineering at the University of the Witwatersrand, in Johannesburg. “When I finished, I always wanted to do rocketry, Elon Musk type of stuff.”

He worked at a South African rocket design firm but the company went under. “I think it was just the wrong time, they couldn’t get money,” says Rosman.

Adam Rosman. Photo by Motlabana Monnakgotla.

Back then may have been the wrong time to build rockets, but Rosman seemed to have perfect timing when he started Aerial Monitoring Solutions (AMS) in 2013. The company designs custom drones for the commercial market.

“These aren’t for hobbyists to play around with on the weekend,” he says.

AMS has two drone systems at the moment. One is a large, 2.5-meter, fixed-wing system called the Eagle Owl; the other is a small multicopter system, the Bumble Bee.

As they are customizable, Rosman’s drones have many uses. Farmers use them to inspect the health of their crops and to monitor their fences for security reasons. Game farms use them for fence monitoring, animal counting and anti-poaching. Land surveyors use them to get topographical maps while mining companies use them for ore vein exploration.

“My entire drive is to have something customizable because there’s no one-system-fits-all [solution]. We’ve made a platform that can carry payload, can carry a range of cameras, can do game counting, [and] guys are using it for agriculture.”

There are many drone technology companies emerging in South Africa but Rosman says AMS differs in that it is one of the few that develops hardware, plus it is affordable.

The basic fixed-wing system, with the launch rail, ground control station, antennas, basic day-time camera, and a laptop, will cost about R200,000 ($17,000).

“We found you could purchase systems from overseas that were high precision, but they were hundreds and thousands of US dollars. I felt like they were excluding Africa, or other poorer continents like South America, who can’t afford those systems except if you’re a government or a major company. Why shouldn’t a guy who has a farm and wants to be able to check his fences be able to buy a drone?” he says.

The feature, however, that Rosman takes the most pride in is the robustness of his drones.

READ MORE: Mind Blown By Drone At 160km/h

“From the start, we wanted something that is by Africa, for Africa. It’s got to be able to go into harsh terrain and operate. It’s got to be able to handle the rough handling – like be thrown into the back of a [pick-up truck], driven around on dirt roads, taken out, put together and expected to fly. Unfortunately, I’ve seen some of the demos where the high-end guys come from Europe or America and go to the Kruger National Park, turn on the system but because of the heat it can’t operate,” he says.

“We wanted to give something that could handle anything. If it ends up in a little village covered in dust, and gets dust storms blowing through it every day, it will still be able to operate there or if it’s flying above Kilimanjaro covered in snow.”

Rosman has reason to be proud. He started AMS with nothing but his parents’ garage and a few angel investors.

“I took over my parents’ garage; I kicked them out and said ‘I’m going to work in here’. I brought in equipment and started designing the aircraft in there during the night.”

After a few years, those designs started attracting shareholders.

“They’ve been amazingly supportive. In 2016, they came and saw potential and I’m lucky to have them.”

His parents’ support was just as valuable, even when he was young.

“When I was younger I used to build model aircraft with my dad and then we went on and got remote-controlled gliders and remote-controlled cars. I would build them and play with them for about a week. The next week I would take the entire thing apart because I wanted to see how it worked and then try and put it back together again. To this day, at my folks’ house there are still lots of bits and pieces of aircraft and toys.”

Rosman says drones can kickstart South Africa’s dwindling aviation industry.

READ MORE: Something To Drone About

“A lot of jobs can be created in the drone space, from operators to maintenance to regulators. It’s a multi-billion-dollar industry. It’s estimated that from the time the industry started, government regulations have hindered 25,000 jobs from being created.”

As the Deputy Chairperson of the Commercial Unmanned Aircraft Association of South Africa (CUAASA), Rosman understands the industry better than most.

“The main hindrance to the entire drone industry is government regulations. They implemented drone regulations in June 2015 and they brought in some very good regulations, they still are very good. The problem is the implementation procedure has taken too long,” he says.

“Operation certificates are supposed to have a 30- to 90-day turnaround time. Realistically, it’s about a two-year turnaround time.”

A CUAASA study revealed that 99% of the drone industry in South Africa is operating illegally because of the time and cost involved in government regulations.

“Before you start making money, to operate legally, you’ve got to have five full-time safety officers, you have to have purchased your drones, and drone technology at the moment becomes obsolete within nine months, but only in possibly two years’ time can you operate.”

AMS also plans to do payload delivery, but needs to wait for the Civil Aviation Authority to legalize it. Another avenue Rosman is looking at is vehicle tracking.

“Why have helicopters in the air? Our systems fly on autopilot, so if you give it the GPS co-ordinates, it’ll go there… If the drone crashes, you only lose some money.”

With the Eagle Owl and Bumble Bee, money is unlikely to be a problem for Rosman.

– By Gareth Cotterell

Billionaires

How To Become A Billionaire: Nigeria’s Oil Baroness Folorunso Alakija On What Makes Tomorrow’s Billionaires

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One of only two female billionaires in Africa, with a net worth of $1 billion, Nigeria’s oil baroness Folorunso Alakija elaborates on the state of African entrepreneurship today.

The 69-year-old Folorunso Alakija is vice chair of Famfa Oil, a Nigerian oil exploration company with a stake in Agbami Oilfield, a prolific offshore asset. Famfa Oil’s partners include Chevron and Petrobras. Alakija’s first company was a fashion label. The Nigerian government awarded Alakija’s company an oil prospecting license in 1993, which was later converted to an oil mining lease. The Agbami field has been operating since 2008; Famfa Oil says it will likely operate through 2024. Alakija shares her thoughts to FORBES AFRICA on what makes tomorrow’s billionaires:

What is your take on the state of African entrepreneurship today? Is enough being done for young startups?

There are a lot of business opportunities in Africa that do not exist in other parts of the world, yet Africa is seen as a poor continent. The employment constraints in the formal sector in Africa have made it impossible for it to meet the demands of the continent’s working population of which over 60% are the youth. Therefore, it is imperative we harness the potential of Africa’s youth to engage in entrepreneurship and provide adequate assistance to enable them to succeed.

Several governments have been working to provide a conducive atmosphere which will promote entrepreneurship on the continent. However, there is still a lot more to be done in ensuring that the potential of these young entrepreneurs are maximized to the fullest. Some of the challenges young startups in Africa face are as follows: lack of access to finance/insufficient capital; lack of infrastructure; bureaucratic bottlenecks and tough business regulations; inconsistent government policies; dearth of entrepreneurial knowledge and skills; lack of access to information and competition from cheaper foreign alternatives.

It is therefore imperative that governments, non-governmental agencies, and the financial sectors work together to ameliorate these challenges itemized above.

The governments of African nations should provide and strengthen its infrastructure (power, roads and telecom); they should encourage budding entrepreneurs by ensuring that finance is available to businesses with the potential for growth and also commit to further improving their business environments through sustained investment; there must also be a constant push for existing policies and legislation to be reviewed to promote business activities.

These policies must also be enforced, and punitive measures put in place to deter offenders; government regulations should also be flexible to constantly fit the dynamics of the business environment; corruption and unethical behavior must be decisively dealt with and not treated with kid gloves. We must empower our judicial system to enable them to prosecute erring offenders with appropriate sanctions meted out. There should be no “sacred cows” or “untouchables”. The same law must be applied to all, no matter their state or position in the society; non-governmental organizations can also provide support for them through training and skills acquisition programs that will help build their capacity; they could also provide finance to grow their businesses; more mentorship programs should be encouraged, and incubators of young enterprises should be supported by public policy aimed at improving the quality of these youths and their ventures; and also, avenues should be created where young entrepreneurs will be able to connect, learn and share ideas with already successful well-established entrepreneurs.

What, according to you, are the attributes needed for tomorrow’s billionaires?

There is no overnight success. You must start by dreaming big and working towards achieving it. You must be determined to succeed despite all odds. Do not allow your setbacks or failures to stop you but rather make them your stepping stone. Develop your strengths to attain excellence and be tenacious, never give up on your dream or aspiration. Your word must be your bond. You must make strong ethical values and integrity your watchword. Always act professionally and this will enable you to build confidence in your customers and clients. 

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Entrepreneurs

The Sun King Bows Out: Legendary Hotelier Sol Kerzner Has Died

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Solomon (Sol) Kerzner, one of the world’s most innovative hoteliers, founder of the Southern Sun hotel group, Sun International and Kerzner International, has died of cancer surrounded by his family at the Kerzner family home, Leeukoppie Estate, in Cape Town, South Africa. Always a maverick, Kerzner was a titan of the hotel and resort industry who redefined the scale and scope of integrated destination resorts worldwide. He was 84.

The son of Russian immigrants, Kerzner was born in Johannesburg, South Africa, in 1935. The youngest of four and the only son, Sol was a working class boy from a rough neighbourhood but he would grow up to become one of the most influential entrepreneurs in South Africa. Having founded the country’s two largest hotel groups — Southern Sun and Sun International — Kerzner would go on to achieve international prominence with groundbreaking resorts that helped transform the tourism industries not only of his home country but of Mauritius, The Maldives, The Bahamas, Dubai and other important international destinations.

Kerzner’s career in hospitality began in 1962 when he decided to leave the accounting profession and purchased The Astra, a small inn in Durban, South Africa. Kerzner quickly transformed this rundown establishment into one of the most popular hotels in the area, a success that whetted Sol’s insatiable appetite for innovation and demonstrated a trademark ingenuity that would define his 60-year career.

Kerzner’s most monumental and controversial achievement was the creation of Sun City.  Here, in an area north of Johannesburg where there were no roads and no infrastructure, Sol imagined and delivered the most ambitious resort project in all of Africa. Commencing work in 1975, over the next ten years, Kerzner built four hotels, a man-made lake, two Gary Player golf courses, and an entertainment center with an indoor 6,000-seat arena, which played host to a world-class roster of artists including Queen, Frank Sinatra, Liza Minelli, Shirley Bassey, as well as huge world title fights, and many other spectacular events. Once again, Kerzner defied the naysayers to train a best of breed workforce and to operate Sun City on a totally non-racial basis. Even the most cynical of visiting overseas journalists had to concede defeat in trying to find racism behind the operation of the vast resort.

Sol is survived by his children Andrea, Beverley, Brandon and Chantal and ten grandchildren. His eldest son, Howard ‘Butch’ Kerzner died in 2006.

Sol Kerzner will be buried at a small, private funeral with only immediate family in attendance.

Back in 2014, the Sun King was featured on the cover of Forbes Africa for the 3rd Anniversary Issue of the magazine.

In 2018 he was honored with the Life Time Achievement award at the All Africa Business Leaders Awards (AABLAs).

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Entrepreneurs

The French Silhouette In Africa: How This Designer Started Her Own Business Despite A Shortage Of Funds

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From glamorous Paris to gritty Johannesburg, Zazi Nyandeni arrived with $2,700 and updated sartorial skills to showcase haute couture on South Africa’s racks and runways.

With just $2,700 in her bank, transferred from her savings account in France, Zazi Nyandeni returned home to the South African fashion industry with her freshly-minted talent. But if Paris was school, Johannesburg proved to be university. Qualifying was never easy.

About 53kms from Johannesburg’s OR Tambo International Airport is Constantia Kloof, a scenic, upmarket suburb in the West Rand, where we meet Nyandeni, the up-and-coming 25-year-old fashion entrepreneur whose brand, Zazi Luxury, has showcased in Paris, the fashion capital of the world.

“I wasn’t really introduced to fashion, but more so to art,” recalls Nyandeni of her early days. “Ever since primary school, I was exposed to paintings, drawings and music by my father when he would come back with artworks from his travels.”

She thought she was going to become a doctor growing up because of her choice of subjects in high school but still pursued design to stay close to art. Thankfully, her parents picked up that she was artistically-inclined and gave her their unstinted support.

In 2013, after high school, Nyandeni took the plane out of South Africa and went on to study fashion at ESMOD, an international fashion design and business school in Paris. She wanted to express herself without saying a word, and found her way. She spent close to six years there, studying full-time for the first three years and partially for the last two, whilst freelancing and interning for various companies in the glitzy city.

“I love to draw and not really to sew. For my first freelance job, I went for a company that would help me work on my weaknesses; I went to Loon Paris boutique and worked on my sewing techniques. They were very strict and meticulous when it came to sewing and I learned a lot about technique,” she says.

The intense training meant that even the inside of a garment had to be as exquisite as the outside and if the hand stitch was incorrect, she had to undo and redo it all over again.

READ MORE: Conscious Fashion: ‘So Much More You Can Do With Discarded Clothes’

“When I asked ‘aren’t we wasting material’, they would say ‘I’m wasting their time’,” she laughs.

The eager fashionista was juggling two jobs; the other was at a PR agency named DLX Paris, which was sourcing brands for international celebrities like American singer-songwriter Kelly Rowland.

She soon came to a realization that in fashion, there is nothing new, which is when she moved to fabric store Boutique Malhia Kent, a French manufacturer of haute couture.

Nyandeni has a soft spot for weaving. She clearly adores fabrics, and this is apparent in the weaving machine she has at her Constantia Kloof studio, placed in a corner of one of the work rooms.

She says her weaving differentiates her from the other designers, as she compares herself to South Africa’s Laduma Ngxokolo of MaXhosa Africa and Greek fashion designer Mary Katrantzou.

“You can make a silhouette similar to somebody else but the real interesting part is the fabric, so Malhia Kent deals with fabric customization, and this is where I learned that in the world of fabric, you are two years ahead of the industry; like Chanel orders their fabric from Malhia Kent,” she says.

That was the space she wanted to be in.

So in between jobs, Nyandeni co-founded Garbage, a business that looked into environment-friendly garments.

“We wanted to speak on the notations of how do we pick up the fashion industry and say that there are other ways to look glamorous and chic and it doesn’t have to be wasteful and terrible to the environment.”

The business ran for a year and sold a few garments, but sadly, collapsed. That inspired the birth of an idea, one that would solely work for her, a business that would include all that she had learned from fashion school and the stylish streets of Paris. She had also personally worked with Katrantzou, building a portfolio and a first collection. She was ready and had under $2,700 in savings.

READ MORE: Owning The African Narrative

Nyandeni returned home to South Africa and registered her company in 2018.

“In my heart, I thought I was going to be able to buy sewing machines and a small car to travel back and forth for business, be able to get staple fabrics that people would love,” she says.

It was not the case, but she started the business despite a shortage of funds.

“I called it Zazi Luxury because it speaks to more of the inside and outside of a garment and the technique used which is the core of the business. The inside is about matching the outside; I should literally be able to wear it inside out, and if not, it’s not [a Zazi Luxury product].”

Her first client was South African comedienne Tumi Morake referred by a mutual friend, and later actress Zenande Mfenyana, but currently, her clients are also doctors, lawyers and drawn from the corporate world.

“In the beginning, the business was focused on couture and it developed a bit more into business such as television, dressing anchors, and we also have ready-to-wear garments. We are broadening the business to other boutiques too.”

Zazi Luxury recently showcased at South Africa Fashion Week. This year, she will be working on a fourth collection that will be both couture and basic women’s workwear garments but featuring the Zazi aesthetic.

Zazi Luxury currently employs seven young enthusiastic fashionistas; one of who is Lebohang Ketlele, who has worked with Nyandeni for two years.

“I am a dressmaker and stylist. I don’t think I would know the things I know now if I wasn’t working here, we have dressed celebrities and that is a great experience,” attests Ketlele.

Inspired in Paris, but made in Africa, Zazi seems to have made the cut.

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