Murray Legg likes to build things. By the age of seven, he mastered carpentry and made money out of it.
“My grandfather loved woodwork and he showed me how to make little things like letter boxes, bird nesting boxes and tomato boxes. I sold these to my friends and made money out of it,” he says.
At 15, he bought his first shares. At 21, he built a business from the ground up. At 31, he hopes to change the face of medicine.
“I have always had a passion for math, science and biology. I have always been very happy looking for solutions to problems.”
Born the son of a miner in Klerksdorp, in the North West province of South Africa, Legg moved from mining town to mining town. He was a bit of a nerd who spent Saturday nights doing calculus.
Legg holds a biomedical engineering PhD; has four years investment banking experience and is an entrepreneur. He hopes to give people a new lease of life though his innovative business – SA Cardiosynthetics – that makes heart valve replacements.
The heart has four valves which open and close, preventing a backflow that could kill you.
According to Legg, half a million heart-valve replacements are performed around the world each year. Current devices only cater for patients in rich countries.
The idea for his business came to Legg while working at a medical devices company in Pretoria where he met valve surgeon, David Wheatley, and they set up SA Cardiosynthetics.
“My understanding of engineering and his understanding of the human body provided an opportunity for us,” he says.
Together they created a cheaper heart valve for emerging markets.
“Rheumatic fever is prevalent in the BRICS countries and heart valve replacements are needed to give the patient an extended life.”
Following successful animal trials and fatigue tests, the pair will bring in a global valve manufacturer to run human trials on its way to world approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
“Other valves are made out of carbon, cow or pig tissue. Our valve is made out of biostable polymer designed to offer patients a much longer life without the need for continuous medication.”
Legg says it will also create jobs through manufacturing.
These heart valves are expected to be in operation by 2016. SA Cardiosynthetics has been granted patents in the United States, Europe, India, China, Australia, New Zealand, Russia, Brazil, South Africa, Japan and Canada.
Starting the business was difficult because funders don’t always understand high risk investments. Now that Legg has the money in place, he believes it was woodwork, hard work and being different that got him there.
“At the time, everyone thought I was a nerd but I was very interested in how stock and equity markets work.”
It was at university where necessity proved the mother of invention.
“My dad said if I go to a university other than the University of the Witwatersrand I should pay for my own accommodation, so I took the risk because I wanted to study at the University of Pretoria.”
He had to make a plan to cover costs. It was a risk, but his marks convinced an engineering company to give him a bursary. Then he started a tutoring company, in his second year.
“Maths and science were problems for many people so my friend and I started a tutoring company. We would employ tutors for these subjects and the company started to grow.”
Penguin Tutoring is now franchized across the country.
“Stay at home mums work on the system we created, all they have to do is make calls and arrange with tutors… Over the course of 10 years, through this platform, we have created about 6,000 jobs for students,” he says.
Penguin Tutoring turned out not to be as big a money spinner as they would have hoped. Legg’s digital passion however grew and he partnered with Mike Sharman, in 2010, to start Retroviral Digital Communications, a digital agency that helps business improve online.
“We loved the idea of using digital to take out the right messages and make them go viral. That’s why we called it retroviral.”
In 2012, Legg founded Webfluential; a global platform that allows brand campaigns reach the right target market.
Webfluential is designed for social media, with a means to generate new revenue streams off the posts they have created. It employs 2,800 people.
According to Legg, technology businesses that address global challenges are on the rise.
“I have to be working in the entrepreneurial world rather than a corporate. All the things I do sound very different but they all have great commercial sense because they are very scalable and they have intellectual property which is protected.”
Legg may have been a nerd 20 years ago, but in the 21st century he has the heart an entrepreneur.