The idea came on an errand. The grandparents of Sizwe Nzima asked him to walk to the clinic to collect chronic medication for them. It was not far from their home in Khayelitsha, 35km outside Cape Town in South Africa. The trip changed his life.
The errand was a symptom to the problem that faces many public hospitals and clinics in South Africa. They are choked by long queues.
Nzima thought to himself, on that day, how a team on bicycles could deliver medication faster and more efficiently.
The World Health Organization says that of the 36 million people in the world, who died from chronic disease in 2008, nine million were younger than 60. Ninety percent of them were premature deaths that occurred in low- and middle-income countries, such as South Africa.
“We did some research at the clinic. We asked the Khayelitsha Health District to find out what people think of the introduction of the new service,” says Nzima.
This was the birth of Iyeza Express, a medicine delivery business that opened in Khayelitsha last year. Nzima completed a six-month entrepreneurship course at the Raymond Ackerman Academy of Entrepreneurial Development. Ackerman is the founder of South Africa’s second largest supermarket, Pick ‘n Pay, and is on the FORBES list of the continent’s 40 richest people.
Nzima was rejected the first time he applied to the academy in 2011, but he kept applying and was accepted in 2012 and won R10,000 ($1,000) for the best entrepreneur.
“I bought those two bicycles I started off with and bought a few t-shirts. I bought a phone, printed a few business cards and a few pamphlets. I saved the rest of the money for transport and for traveling and started using it for repairs,” says Nzima.
“I combined the experience I had in having to wait in those long queues, waking up early in the morning and going through that whole process at the hospital and leaving late.”
Nzima delivered medication to doorsteps for clients, who were too busy to collect them or too weary to stand. He charged them R10 ($1) for the service.
In one year, he has grown his customer base from his grandparents to more than 200 clients. He has four people pedaling with him thanks to seed capital from the South African Breweries Innovation Awards.
“I won a R100,000 grant that helped me buy more bicycles, buy more uniforms, buy bags and build my apartment, where I can live here and keep my bikes,” says Nzima.
For now the headquarters are a little corrugated iron shack in his grandparents’ backyard, where he keeps the bicycles safely and does the books.
He is buying more bicycles and needs people to pedal them. Nzima hopes to gain a subsidy from the health department after reading the objectives in the government’s 2020 health plan booklet. For now, every day Nzima and his four-man team flits through Khayelitsha’s alleys and roads with a backpack filled with goods that will ease the pain and may save the lives of their customers.
Right now, they are far from making a fortune from their daily runs but their name Iyeza means it’s coming.