Richard Hardiman is using drones to rid the world’s seas of trash. He faced bankruptcy and depression before the project went from prototype to profit.
Rubbish in the world’s oceans has reached critical levels that threaten not only marine life but also our own future on this planet as we know it, as fragile eco-systems are eroded.
What is already out on the seas, estimated by National Geographic to be growing by almost a million tonnes per year, is lost, but South African entrepreneur Richard Hardiman has developed a drone to catch this waste at source – the harbors and ports of the world – before it hits the ocean.rubbish in the world’s oceans has reached critical levels that threaten not only marine life but also our own future on this planet as we know it, as fragile eco-systems are eroded.
The WasteShark has been in planning and product testing stages since 2015, but is now sold globally as a drone that can clear the water of waste and help halt what is a growing catastrophe on our seas.
It has been a long personal battle for Cape Town-based Hardiman, one that brought him to the edge of despair.
But with the product in the water in a growing number of countries, including South Africa, the United States, India, the United Arab Emirates, Netherlands, Germany and Sweden, his Rotterdam-based company RanMarine Technology is primed to be a leader in this niche field.
“The initial idea was not motivated by trying to solve environmental problems,” Hardiman tells FORBES AFRICA. “I was sitting at the Waterfont in Cape Town watching these guys out in boats with pool nets pulling the plastic from the water.
“It irritated me that there was a lot of trash and they were trying to solve the problem with a little net. In was inefficient and you could see trash being swept out into the open ocean.”
Hardiman, who worked as a radio host for much of his adult life, developed the idea for a drone that could mechanize the process, either controlled from the shore or on its own as a robot in the water.
“I built a prototype, literally in my garage, by sticking some PVC pipes together and did some research on the internet,” he says.
“I taught myself how to code on to my phone and came up with a small drone I put into my pool and started to drive around. It did what it was supposed to do.”
Hardiman had no luck finding early investors in South Africa though.
“The feedback was quite good, but if I’m honest my pitch was terrible,” he says. “In trying to raise money, the one thing I have learned is that your pitch needs to be perfect. If you cannot be precise with every answer to every conceivable question, it turns investors off.
“Although people love the environment, let’s face it, if they are putting money into it they want to see a return on investment.”
The ingenuity of the idea caught the attention of Accelerator though, a program to help start-ups based in Rotterdam. Hardiman began in the top 1,000 entries from around the world, eventually making it to the final 20 after an arduous series of interviews.
He was then required to make the journey to the Netherlands for the finals and by this time had sunk so much energy, time and money into the project that the married father-of-three had nothing left to fund the trip.
“I was completely broke, I had no money left. I was taking any job I could get. I was penniless,” he admits.
Hardiman eventually found a local investor who took a punt on the project and lent him the money to get himself to the Accelerator finals.
“He gave me enough money to pay for the trip and to survive for about six months. But when I landed in Rotterdam, his cheque hadn’t cleared yet, my credit card had zero funds in it and I had five Euros in my pocket.
“Each day for a week I would walk from my hotel to the [Accelerator] event, which was about five kilometers away, sometimes in the rain and snow.
“Everybody else was so well-dressed and I would arrive in a soaking wet suit.”
But the response to WasteShark was overwhelming and he made it into the Accelerator program, which meant leaving his Cape Town-based family behind to live in Rotterdam for the next three months.
“After the three months we had done really well and we got a pilot with the Port of Rotterdam, which is the largest port in the world. They put 100,000 Euros into what would be a six-month project.”
But there would be more hurdles for Hardiman to face and the worst was yet to come.
“I fell out with the original engineering firm and brought on another partner that proved to be a disaster. It just wasn’t the right fit. By the end of 2016, I was completely out of money again and we were only halfway through development.
“I came back to South Africa licking my wounds. We had spent a lot of money and it had not really gone anywhere. In terms of investors, I found that the Dutch love innovation, but they hate risk, so nobody wanted to come into the project early.
“I went into a deep spiral of depression. I’d gone from having money to no money again. I had half a product that I needed to make work because I had a family to support.
“But I found I just couldn’t get out of bed, I really felt like I had screwed up and let everybody down.”
A chance meeting at a children’s party led to Hardiman finding a local South African investor who liked the idea of the project and could see the potential. He returned to the Netherlands.
“I just needed enough money to get through to June 2017 because by then we would have finished the product development stage. Then we could start selling.”
A little more than a year on and WasteShark is becoming a feature of a number of ports and harbors, and Hardiman has now moved on to the next stage.
“We sold one, then another, and suddenly it just started taking off,” he says. “We have been inundated with interest from all around the world. It’s a new position for us to be in, from the phase of trying to get a finished product out to going into production.”
Hardiman says that while they could have gotten carried away with technology on the WasteShark, the aim was actually to make the drone as simple as possible.
“I had this vision of a guy on Lake Malawi using our drone and when I sat down with the group of engineers to plan the product, there were many fantastic ideas about what we could do.
“But I was firm in my mind that we need to cater for that guy in Malawi. If a thruster is broken, he can fix it himself. It must be easy for him to operate, be simple and robust.”
Hardiman says they have numerous other versions of the WasteShark in planning and production including one that provides data on the quality of the water and another that can clean up oil in harbors. The next version will be ready September.
He adds he is most often asked what he hopes to do about the critical issue of plastic in the oceans, but the realistic goal for now is to stop the problem getting worse.
“My goal is not to solve the issue that is already out there, because that’s not realistic. It’s to stop the problem getting worse.
“If we can do that in a canal, river, marina or harbor, where most of the trash in the sea comes from, then you are starting to win the battle.”
– Nick Said
Covid-19: ‘Help Healthcare Systems In The Early Days Of Disease’
A preliminary screening test app from the Philippines that can help individuals and healthcare systems diagnose Covid-19 symptoms sooner – and in a safer way.
Lars Jeppesen, the CEO and Co-Founder of Enadoc, a tech company based in Manila in the Philippines, and Wasantha Weerakoone, its CTO and Co-Founder, have always been passionate about healthcare. Although running Enadoc, which they co-founded in 2017 with technology solutions integrator Tech One Global, in the Covid-19 pandemic, Jeppesen says they saw an opportunity to not only make a difference, but also “expand the bandwidth and depth” of their services. Enadoc has now developed a screening test app that individuals can use at home, while healthcare institutions can use it on people who have developed symptoms of Covid-19. The Denmark-born entrepreneur shares more:
How did the Covid-19 screening test application come about?
In emerging economies and markets, even big countries like the US and many European countries, the number of doctors per person is limited… Now, we have a virus that has been spreading since November and if the doctor would have been some kind of AI in the background, maybe this data could have been available earlier saying ‘ok, we have some abnormal amount of people who are having the same symptoms, what is happening here?’ But because each doctor in each country, district and village deals with their own situation differently, all of us have our basic education but how do we keep ourselves up-to-date all the time with the latest? So it was always in my head ‘what can we do in this situation to bring more healthcare to more people, and help the healthcare systems in the early days of the disease to screen people or to help diagnose better?’
I think the diagnosis could be done more and more by AI sitting behind some application. And maybe with some telemedicine in between… Because of that, doctors can deal with more patients in a day and don’t need to deal with patients that could be contagious. The first paralyzing situation in the healthcare system was so many doctors and nurses got sick in the early days because they didn’t know what they were dealing with. So, if we had some kind of way of saying ‘ok, there’s something happening here, this patient needs to arrive in the hospital and be put in isolation before, or we need to have certain equipment to make sure we deal with this patient in a different way’, that made us think. Then you start to see the emergence of people coming up with some screening tools and we said ‘ok, maybe we could take all the information available that we could find in the World Health Organization, Department of Health, and all these different sources and put together some kind of framework to help in screening’. We did that and now the application is in data.
How are African countries using the app?
Right now, we have seen around six or seven countries using the app in Africa including Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa, Kenya and Uganda. We don’t know the exact location of the user, we just know the app has been used there. We don’t know the individual user, we don’t have an IP address or any phone ID. The platform we are using for the app is Microsoft services.
One of our intentions is to bring this product together with the healthcare app from Microsoft… We bring on the global healthcare AI into the backend of the app and create a kind of an app chat bot where you can say what your symptoms are, not only for Covid-19, but for any kind of disease.
31% Of Small Businesses Have Stopped Operating Amid Coronavirus: Sheryl Sandberg Shares How Facebook’s Latest Product Aims To Help
The coronavirus pandemic has continued to take a catastrophic toll on America’s small businesses. According to Facebook’s State of Small Business report, 31% of small businesses and 52% of personal businesses have stopped operating as a result of the crisis.
“What we know today is pretty sobering,” says Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg. “We’re in a really hard economic situation that is hitting all businesses, but particularly, small businesses really hard. We also know how critical small businesses are for jobs—long before coronavirus,” she says. “Two thirds of new jobs in this country happen because of small businesses and so that means what’s happening with small businesses has always been important, but it’s more important than ever.”
Especially concerning is that only 45% of business owners and managers plan to rehire the same number of workers when their businesses reopen. That number is just 32% for personal businesses.
“If these businesses are letting people go, it’s not that they don’t want to rehire them,” Sandberg says. “It’s because they don’t think they’re going to be able to. That’s a pretty serious thing for us to be facing.”
Businesses that have been able to maintain operations still face significant hurdles, namely access to capital and customers. Some 28% of businesses surveyed say their biggest challenge over the next few months will be cash flow, while 20% say it will be lack of demand.
The report, conducted in partnership with the Small Business Roundtable, was based on a survey of 86,000 owners, managers and workers at U.S. companies with fewer than 500 employees. It is also a part of the company’s broader data collection initiative with the World Bank and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development on the Future of Business.
“We were already in the process of developing this report before the coronavirus pandemic hit,” Sandberg says. “We expected it to be a pretty rosy tale back then of low unemployment, flourishing entrepreneurship, and jobs growing all over the world. Fast forward to today and we’re in a very different position.”
Now, the company is launching Facebook Shops, an ecommerce product that allows businesses to set up online “storefronts” on Facebook and Instagram. Businesses can customize their digital shops, using cover images to showcase their brands and catalogs to highlight their products. And just as customers can ask for help when shopping in physical stores, they can message business owners directly via WhatsApp, Messenger or Instagram Direct to ask questions, track deliveries and more. “Our goal is to make shopping seamless and empower anyone from a small business owner to a global brand to use our apps to connect with customers,” wrote Facebook cofounder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg in a post announcing the new product. As was the case with the survey, the rollout was planned prior to the pandemic, but was accelerated as businesses have turned to online tools to adapt in the face of the ongoing crisis. According to the survey, 51% of small business owners have increased their online interactions with customers, and 36% of operational businesses are now conducting all sales online.
“One of the things I find so amazing is how much of the activity has migrated online and that we’re doing things we never thought were possible,” says Sandberg. “If I had asked you or you had asked me, could I work entirely from home? Can my whole company go home? I would have said ‘No way.’ But we did it. Small businesses have even more entrepreneurial spirit.”
There are more than 30 million small businesses in the U.S., many of which are struggling to stay afloat amid forced closures and are still hoping to receive financial relief from the government. According to a recent survey by Goldman Sachs, 71% of Paycheck Protection Program applicants are still waiting for loans and 64% don’t have enough cash to survive the next three months. As of April 19, more than 175,000 businesses have shut down—temporarily or permanently—with closure rates rising 200% or more in hard-hit metropolitan cities like Los Angeles, New York, and Chicago, according to Yelp’s Q1 Economic Average report.
Employees of these businesses are disproportionately affected, with 74% and 70% reporting not having access to paid sick leave and paid time off, according to Facebook’s survey. For hotel, cafe and restaurant employees, those figures are over 90%.
Facebook, which relies heavily on small businesses for advertising revenue, was among the first major tech companies to provide much-needed aid. On March 17, the company announced $100 million in grants for small businesses, the majority of which will be distributed in cash, with some ad credits for business services. Of those funds, $40 million will be distributed across 34 American cities, with 50% being reserved for women, minority and veteran-owned businesses. The other $60 million will be distributed to small business owners throughout the world. In addition to financial assistance, the company also rolled out various product offerings including digital gift cards, fundraisers and easier ways for businesses to communicate service changes to their customers.
Small businesses are resilient, even during times of crisis. According to the report, 57% of businesses are optimistic or extremely optimistic about the future, with only 11% of operating businesses expecting to fail in the next three months, should current conditions persist.
“The report raises awareness about the struggles small businesses face from the Covid-19 pandemic,” says Rhett Buttle, founder of Public Private Strategies and co-executive director of the Small Business Roundtable. “But small businesses have brought us out of previous economic downturns and they will do so again.”
Birds Of A Feather: The Stepchickens Cult On TikTok Is The Next Evolution Of The Influencer Business
Like any self-respecting cult, the Stepchickens follow a strict code of conduct as dictated by their absolute leader, Mother Hen, a comedian named Melissa who posts on TikTok as @chunkysdead. Mother Hen has widely preached a message of peace, telling her 1.7 million TikTok followers: “We do not rule by being cruel, we shine by being kind.” Further, she has asked all Stepchickens to make themselves easily identifiable and make her photo their TikTok profile picture.
Mother Hen has created TikTok’s first “cult.” (Her word.) Boiled down, she is a social media influencer, and the Stepchickens are her fans, just as more famous TikTok influencers—Charli D’Amelio, Addison Rae and the like—all have their fanbases. But Mother Hen’s presence and style is quite singular, particularly in the way she communicates with her followers, what she asks them to do and how the Stepchickens respond to her. After all, not every member of the Charli hive use her image as their profile pictures.
“These influencers are looking for a way to build community and figure out how to monetize their community. That’s the No. 1 most important thing for a creator or an influencer,” says Tiffany Zhong, cofounder of ZebraIQ, a community and trends platform. “It’s become a positive for Gen Z, where you’re proud to be part of this cult—part of this community. They are dying to be part of a community. So it’s easy to get sucked in.”
Mother Hen, who didn’t return a request to comment for this story, already had a popular comedy vlog-style TikTok account on May 6 when she asked her followers to send suggestions for what they could name their cult. From the ideas offered up, she chose Stepchickens, and in the 19 days since, her following has more than doubled. (It was around 700,000 back at the beginning of this month.) She has posted videos about taking edibles, her celebrity lookalikes and her relationship status (“all this cult power, still no boyfriend”). And perhaps in violation of her first-do-no-harm credo, Mother Hen has implored her followers to embark on “battles” and “raids,” where Stepchickens comment bomb other influencers’ videos, posting messages en masse. She has become the mother of millions: TikTok videos with #stepchickens have generated 102 million views on the app, and her own videos have received 54.6 million likes.
Mother Hen is now concentrating on feathering her nest. She has launched a large range of merch: smartphone cases ($24), hoodies ($44), t-shirts ($28) and beanies ($28). Corporate sponsorships seem within reach, too. TikTok accounts for the Houston Rockets, Tampa Bay Rays and one for the Chicago Bulls mascot, Benny, all changed their profile picture to the image distributed by Mother Hen. The Rays sent her a box of swag, addressing the package to “Mother Hen,” of course. She dressed up in the gear (two hats, a fanny pack, a tank top) and recorded herself wearing it in a TikTok, a common move by influencers to express gratitude and signal that they’re open to business sponsorship opportunities. Mother Hen has launched a YouTube channel, too, where she’ll earn ad revenue based on the views that her 43,000 subscribers generate by watching her content.
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Then there is the Stepchickens app available on Apple devices. This digital roost is a thriving message feed—it resembles a Slack channel or a Discord server—where Stepchickens congregate, chat and coordinate their raids. They can also use it to create videos, ones “to glorify mother hen,” the app’s instructions read.
The app launched last Monday and has already attracted more than 100,000 users, a benchmark that most apps do not ever see and the best reach within months of starting. Since its debut, it has ranked as high as the ninth most popular social media app in the world on the download charts and in the Top 75 most downloaded across all types of apps. The Stepchickens have traded 135,000 messages, and the app’s most devoted users are spending as long as 10 hours a day on it, says Sam Mueller, the cofounder and CEO of Blink Labs who built the Stepchickens app.
“There’s this emergence of a more active—a more dedicated—fan base and following. A lot of the influencers on TikTok are kind of dancing around, doing some very broadcast-y type content. Their followers might not mobilize nearly as much as” the Stepchickens, says Mueller. Mother Hen’s flock, by contrast, “feel like they’re part of something, feel like they’re connected. They can have fun and be together for something bigger than what they’re doing right now, which is kind of being at home bored and lonely. There’s untapped value here.”
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