Nicholas Smit and Nicole Vergos are on a mission to help people living with disabilities overcome them, just as they have.
There aren’t enough hours in the day for Nicholas Smit and Nicole Vergos. For Smit, a typical day includes rounds of teaching, tutoring and motivational speaking. For Vergos, whose day begins at 5AM, it’s pretty much the same, battling traffic to get to work and spending her day addressing umpteen client requests, attending meetings and going over research reports. Even in the evenings, and over the weekend, Smit and Vergos, who are friends and business partners, don’t stop, as they meet to work on their brainchild, Smergos.
They are both driven entrepreneurs with boundless dreams that reach across Africa.
And they achieve all of the above, without letting their own disabilities define or limit them.
Vergos was born with osteogenesis imperfecta, a condition that causes bones to be brittle and this has meant being in a wheelchair all her life. Smit, as the result of a car accident, has lived with cerebral palsy and left hemiplegia for all of his adult life.
“We fell into the trap that most entrepreneurs fall into, looking for perfection.”
But together, they are a formidable team on a mission to empower other people living with disabilities, helping them live their lives to the fullest.
Smergos itself had humble beginnings at home in South Africa.
Smit, in a frantic search for a birthday gift for Vergos, realized that locally, there were not enough viable products that catered to the day-to-day needs of someone in a wheelchair or moving around with the help of crutches. Products available abroad were expensive and took incredibly long to arrive.
Armed with this epiphany, Smit chatted to Vergos and Smergos was born. Conceptualized in 2012, the company went public in 2015.
Says Vergos: “We fell into the trap that most entrepreneurs fall into, looking for perfection.” The co-founders spent those early years before going public perfecting the design of their products and sourcing a local manufacturer who could turn their vision into a reality.
Once going public, the response was overwhelming and the company has served the disabled community since.
Winning accolades for their work, the company has also gone from strength to strength. In 2017, Smergos was awarded a grant from ygap, which promotes the acceleration of social impact companies. This grant was used to prototype and test their products which increased the range available to their clientele. And these are bags that fit neatly on any wheelchair, giving the user a safe and easily accessible way to carry their belongings.
Smergos also won a SAB Innovation Award within the disability division and were awarded another grant and mentorship to grow their brand and public reach. Through dedication and determination, Smit and Vergos are continuously striving to improve Smergos and have also been a part of a number of programs focused on mentoring small to medium enterprises.
“Our goal is to become the best we can be so our customers can be the best that they can be,” says Vergos.
It is this constant hunger for growth that has led to the inception of three different product ranges to cater to the needs to their often-marginalized target audience.
“We’re still learning and making sure what we have covers the needs of our market,” adds Smit.
While they are still working on their goal of reaching the rest of Africa, Smergos is paving the way as pioneers within the inclusivity market.
– By Simone Sribrath
Get the best of Forbes Africa sent straight to your inbox with the latest insights and inspiration from experts across the continent. Sign up here.