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The Man Who Sunk His Finances To Clean The Ocean

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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.

READ MORE: Diving Into An Ocean Of Cash

“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.

WasteShark is becoming a feature of a number of ports and harbors.

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

Entrepreneurs

The Bolt And The Beautiful

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From cheers on the track and field to cheers of a different kind, Jamaican sprinting champion Usain Bolt was in South Africa recently to launch his signature champagne.

Widely considered the world’s fastest man, Usain Bolt, the nine-time Olympic gold medalist who has broken records, is now breaking new ground in the business world.

He was in South Africa in January to launch a limited edition champagne in collaboration with champagne producer G.H. Mumm.

Having graced some of the world’s biggest Olympic stadiums, the retired Jamaican sprinter was at the swanky The Maslow hotel in Johannesburg, promoting the pink bubbly as it poured endlessly into fluted glasses.

As the $45 Mumm Olympe Rosé bottle was being passed around, all attention was on the world champion. 

“In Jamaica, we do this naturally; we mix cognac with champagne, and it’s something I enjoy. So when we sat down in the first meeting and we were trying to figure out what direction we wanted to go with for the bottle and with the drink, I mentioned it and asked ‘is it possible?’ and they said ‘yes’. So for me, that was something I was happy about. When you taste it, you’ll taste the cognac and together it’s very nice, trust me,” Bolt tells FORBES AFRICA, aptly marketing his product.

The A-list sports star poses with two bottles, symbolic of the two years it took to create what he calls a premium drink.

G. H. Mumm’s Senior Global Brand Manager, Etienne Cassuto, says collaborations of this magnitude have to be a reflection of authenticity and teamwork.

“This is not something we created and said ‘great, put your name on it, sign it and we sell it’; he created this wine with us and that is why it is something that is truly collaborative and that is where some brands get it wrong,” he says. 

“It took a long time to really get to know Usain Bolt… as an athlete, as someone who has broken records and who has surpassed everything in life to get to where he is today. This desire to partner with Usain Bolt, who is now a retired athlete but still pushing the limit to what he can achieve and really daring himself to go beyond to find his next victory… that is why since 2016, we have been collaborating to try and understand how we can build something in common.”

Bolt, who retired from athletics in 2017, has since pursued a career in football; he decided to hang up his boots in 2018.

His short-lived football career saw him play for Central Coast Mariners, and train in South Africa with Mamelodi Sundowns F.C.

The Olympic sprint champion says athletes should focus on building a brand beyond the track.

“In sports, I was always trying to be the best and do things that have never been done before, it is the same thing in business. You have to find things that no one has done before… As athletes, you should focus on trying to build your brand. Try to work hard and try to develop a personality.

“I think I get sponsorships because I have a personality. I am different, and I stand out. Develop a personality, a brand that people know, this is Bolt, this is Simbine, this is Wayde. I always tell Wayde ‘it is good to be fast and to be great, but if you want to build your brand you have to show your personality’. People will want you to be a part of their brand’,” he tells us.

Akani Simbine and Wayde van Niekerk are South African athletes.

 And Bolt loves South Africa. “When they called and told me we are launching in South Africa, I was happy. Last year, I had so much fun. The energy was different. It felt like home because this is the only place I have been to that I have danced so much. In Jamaica, we dance a lot, but in Africa, you guys dance. A lot!” he says joyfully.

The whole vibe is that of celebration.

“Africa is an exciting market for champagne. African consumers want more premium goods; they want to really discover new things, new products, new categories and they want to spend a little more to discover high-quality products, whether it is luxury or premium goods,” adds Cassuto.

South Africa’s affluent market is no different, and Bolt attests to that – the man fast on the track and faster with his soundbites.

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This Bioengineering Startup Just Raised $90 Million To Make Your Veggie Burger Taste Better

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One of the ag tech world’s few unicorns is spinning off a new food ingredients company called Motif Ingredients with a $90 million Series A.


Motif will leverage intellectual property and facilities from its parent company Ginkgo Bioworks, which was last valued in 2017 at $1.38 billion, when it raised a $275 million Series D. Gingko is known for the ability to rapidly produce DNA for applications from microbes that replace fertilizer to ones that produce perfume fragrances.

At Motif, that technology will be inserted into yeast cells. The yeast is then fermented, as in beer brewing, except that instead of producing alcohol, the yeast creates whatever by-product Motif’s customers want.

These ingredients can be customized to mimic flavors or textures similar to those found in protein products like beef and dairy—a potential game-changer for the budding industry of plant-based foods, which has seen everything from burgers to cheese alternatives gain popularity in recent years.

READ MORE | The Foodies With A Drive For Business

Take Impossible Foods, backed by top investors from Bill Gates to GV. Its soy-and-vegetable-based burger still bleeds like the traditional beef version because of an added ingredient called heme, a molecule found in nearly all living plants and animals.

Impossible’s products rely on this ingredient, which is hard to source. But, as Jason Kelly, Ginkgo Bioworks cofounder and CEO says, Impossible doesn’t manufacture its own heme in-house. And that’s where labs like Motif come in.

“Instead of making another Impossible, we’ll be an ingredient supplier. We’ll supply the Impossible nugget or the egg-free whatever. There are many people who have branding and food development expertise who’d love to make new products in this space, but only a handful have the funding to do,” says Kelly.

“We’re focused on what you’d add to the existing supply chain to make it better. All these companies need it to make a veggie fish stick that tastes good.”

Motif investors include Breakthrough Energy Ventures, Louis Dreyfus Cos., Fonterra and Viking Global Investors.

Ginkgo Bioworks was first founded in 2008, based largely on research developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology by scientist Tom Knight, one of the company’s cofounders who came to biology after decades of work as a computer scientist. Knight’s philosophy of synthetic biology is to treat it as akin to computer programming, and Kelly sees his company as being a biological programmer.

“We’re like app developers writing a microbial app,” he said. “And our customers come to us and say, ‘Hey can you make me an app that does this?’”

This is Ginkgo’s second spin-off. In 2017, Ginkgo formed a joint venture with Bayer called Joyn Bio, which leverages the company’s assets and IP to create microbes that can replace or supplement fertilizer for different crops.

That company kicked off with a $100 million Series A round with investments from its parent companies and Viking Global Investors LP.

Similarly, Kelly sees Motif as a company that will operate in the same way for food ingredients, and he expects that as Ginkgo grows, it will spin out others. “We want to keep, in many, many verticals, popping business up that have access to our platform and ask for specs in different markets.”

-Chloe Sorvino and Alex Knapp; Forbes Staff

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Handcrafted In A Cottage, Bottled For The Globe

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The sisters had no idea their love for healthy food would catapult them into the international food market.


Siblings and foodies Mosibudi Makgato and Rosemary Padi grew up in a yard filled with fruits and vegetables in South Africa and with a mother who could rustle up any healthy dish using produce from the garden.

It was only natural that they started a catering business as a hobby in 2003.

The growing interest from customers drove the business to become a success until recession hit in  2008. The demand for catering decreased because people had less money to spend. However, the wedding season would always bring more customers for the sisters.

That avenue led to the birth of an idea – to develop an authentic South African drink known in some black communities as gemmer, which is commonly known as ginger beer.

“We catered at a wedding and guests kept saying it would be nice to have gemmer. We did the gemmer and people were raving about it more than the food. From the response we got, we thought this would be a nice way to push it into the industry,” Makgato recalls.

With the help and advice of their mother, the sisters did numerous tests and were impressed with the 18-day shelf life of their product. The pair decided to introduce the beverage at a contact’s shop that sold scones – Vero’s Cakes in the north of Johannesburg.

“Gemmer and scones go well together,” 37-year-old Makgato says.

Business was initially slow. They would deliver bottles at the Vero’s Cake store and two weeks later, the spoiled drinks would have to be replaced because they were not sold. This led to them hosting tastings for market research. As a result, they were able to establish that some people had bad experiences with gemmer in their childhood. 

The duo went back to the drawing board, and worked on changing the perceptions of people and assuring them that they don’t use yeast in their product compared to the traditional way of making the drink. This was a healthier alternative and it was African, which meant it did not contain preservatives, Makgato says.


Rosemary Padi. Picture: Supplied

“We would set up a table, put cups, serve people at weddings and funerals and have conversations about gemmer with guests or attendees. We would invite ourselves to women’s gatherings, ask to be guest speakers and educate people about food, in general, because we are from a green-fingered family.”

In 2010, the sisters left catering completely to focus on the beloved South African drink. They registered their company as Yamama Gemmer after they had mastered their mother’s lessons on how to brew gemmer.

In just two years, people bought bottles without questioning and business was growing. They made enough money to buy their own double-door fridge instead of using the one at Vero’s.

The business finally had assets, at this time, Makgato and Padi were producing from a cottage in Randpark Ridge, about 33kms north of Johannesburg’s Central Business District. The cottage was once a storage facility and kitchen. Now, it has evolved into a factory filled with gas stoves and pots leftover from the catering business.

“In 2013, things were becoming busy; I would always have stock with me, I would go to functions and sell from the boot of my car, and would have to meet people who wanted to buy at petrol stations. People were talking about it. Gemmer was becoming a thing. In 2014, Rosemary left her high-paying position in banking to do gemmer,” Makgato says.

While Padi focused more on the business, it boomed further and they moved to certified premises, with a full-time employee at the store.

“When customers come in, I explain everything about gemmer. Customers are very happy, especially after the first introduction to it, even those that know ginger beer are happy with our product,” says Lynette Seleke, who has been working for the sisters for two years now.

The sister duo has also established distribution channels, reselling throughout Gauteng. Managing stock at Vero’s Cakes was becoming a challenge, so they opened a store in the same area in 2016, located not far from a restaurant selling African cuisine.

“Every year, we almost double the previous year’s turnover since 2016,” Makgato says.

Yamama Gemme has catered at a number of international events in South Africa like the Sanlam Handmade Contemporary Fair, the Delicious International Food and Music Festival, and they also had a stall at the popular Neighbourgoods Market.

The appeal is in their presentation. They infuse the drink with fruits and herbs and sometimes encourage people to have it with gin or rum, turning the drink into a cocktail.

“We guarantee that you will not have a hangover because ginger beer is a rehydrate. When you have a hangover, it’s because you are dehydrated, gemmer pulls those fluids that you were missing in your body, that’s why athletes love gemmer,” she says.

Padi adds: “Over the years, the demand has morphed to include a ready-to-drink bottle.” The two have since shown interest in the international market and have rebranded, as they have qualified to export globally. They could well be on their way to becoming known as the ginger beer baronesses of Soweto.

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