Connect with us


How The Rethaka Founders Funded Their Business By Winning Competitions

Two extraordinary young South African entrepreneurs proved that not having cash is no excuse to not following your dream.

Monique Verduyn




Vital Stats

Having grown up in the dusty mining town of Rustenburg, childhood friends-turned-business-partners, Thato Kgatlhanye and Rea Ngwane, knew all too well what it’s like for kids to do their homework when the sun goes down and there is no electricity supply.

What also troubled them was the seemingly endless number of plastics bags and bottles polluting the environment around the town and nearby settlements.

The two – aged just 21 and 22 respectively – put their heads together and came up with an innovation that is now travelling the world.

Rethaka, their social start-up takes advantage of all that plastic waste by upcycling it into 100% recycled plastic backpacks – branded Repurpose – for disadvantaged schoolkids. But there’s more.

We-recommend-tickWe recommend: Why Do Businesses Fail Even When Funded

The bag also doubles as a light, thanks to a nifty solar panel stitched into the flap so that children can do their homework after dark. And to make sure that the kids are more visible to traffic in the early morning when they are making the often long trek to school, the bag is also covered in reflective strips.

To get their idea off the ground initially, they had to set up a workshop with the right equipment and machines that could stitch plastic. When they started in 2013, there wasn’t even infrastructure for plastic recycling in the North West.

“We had no manufacturing experience and no cash,” says Kgatlhanye. “All we had was an idea that we started to think about while we were studying, and the determination to put bags into the hands of kids who desperately needed them.”

Refusing to let their lack of capital deter them, Kgatlhanye and Ngwane got creative, stepped into the trenches, and differentiated themselves. The result: They bootstrapped their way to business success.

Thinking outside the bag

repurposeschoolbagsWith no capital, they had to get creative. “We had the words to describe our product, so we entered start-up competitions and applied for grants, putting all our energy into writing the best proposals you can imagine.”

Their plan worked. They submitted an application to the SAB Foundation Social Innovation Awards, came third, and went home with R300 000.

“From nothing, we suddenly had a meaningful amount to work with,” says Kgatlhanye. “By telling the right story to the right people, we got them to trust us enough to give us capital that we did not have to pay back. It’s a different approach, but it certainly worked for us.”

Sweat equity

Driven by the commitment to making their dream happen, they worked tirelessly. They developed their own system and infrastructure for collecting plastic from landfills and schools, and the raw material started coming in.

Called Purpose Textile Banks, these plastic bag collection sites can be set up at schools, churches, complexes, estates and offices.

At the same time, their research was ongoing. A pilot project was launched in January 2014. They set up a small workshop where the plastic could be processed into a textile, after which workers use industrial sewing machines to turn the material into bags.

“It was a huge risk because we had to employ people to manufacture the bags,” says Kgatlhanye. “We basically took a gamble on everything.”

Business differentiation

The level of manufacturing innovation underlying their business, as well as its potential social impact, were two important elements that differentiated Rethaka from other start-ups. With the research behind them and a product in development, they had the IP and the potential to generate revenue.

Through a combination of enthusiasm and confidence, the two founders did not find it too difficult to bring what they call ‘Giving Partners’ on board – companies and organisations that purchase or give donations towards Repurpose schoolbags on behalf of learners.

We-recommend-tickWe recommend: Government Funding and Grants for Small Businesses

“Finding corporates and individuals who want to contribute to a cause focused on education and children is what has enabled us to turn our original idea into a sustainable social enterprise that benefits kids, employs people from the community and also turns a profit.”

No easy shortcut to profit

“Everyone thinks you need money to start a business, which is true, but we proved that you can do things differently provided you have enough drive and you’re prepared to work harder than you would ever have thought possible,” says Kgatlhanye.

Their plans for the future? They are adamant about growing the business, and Kgatlhanye says there are no plans to give away any equity for the foreseeable future.

Right now, brand management is top of mind for them and they are introducing new product lines, as well as a luxury brand that will enable them to finance even more of the socially responsible side of the business.

As part of the proceeds of the sales, they will be able to finance and subsidise even more bags for schools around the country.

“We plan to build a green empire and develop production plants in other provinces where the need is great, like Limpopo and the Eastern Cape. We are also starting to export products to Australia, and several European countries. There’s a lot of overseas interest. Helping children, employing people, cleaning up the environment – that’s what we are selling. We’re living in a time when more and more people are drawn to the idea of contributing to a better world for all of us to live in.”

Monique Verduyn is a freelance writer. She has more than 12 years’ experience in writing for the corporate, SME, IT and entertainment sectors, and has interviewed many of South Africa’s most prominent business leaders and thinkers. Find her on Google+.


25 Of The Most Successful Business Ideas In South Africa

Find out who’s making waves in numerous industries and how they managed to differentiate themselves in local and international industries.

Nicole Crampton



Prev1 of 26


“Disruption is all about risk-taking, trusting your intuition, and rejecting the way things are supposed to be. Disruption goes way beyond advertising, it forces you to think about where you want your brand to go and how to get there,” says Richard Branson.

South Africa has its fair share of innovative and disruptive businesses taking both local and international industries by storm. From cutting edge space technology to reimagined logistics, and innovative business models, here are 25 of the most successful business ideas in South Africa:

Prev1 of 26

Continue Reading


Colin Timmis Says ‘Position Yourself For Success By Starting With The Numbers’

People pay first who they feel pressure from, so people will pay you when they feel pressure from you.






Entrepreneur Colin Timmis founded South Africa’s first cloud accounting practice in 2011, Real Time Accounting. Then, a few years after being appointed as South Africa’s first Xero partner Colin became Xero Country Manager South Africa. Xero is the emerging global leader of online accounting software that connects small businesses to their advisors and other services.

Related: Pat Pillai On How He’s Helped Over 5000 Entrepreneurs Using 3 Key Steps

Continue Reading

Company Posts

Two 20 Year Olds Reshape Entrepreneur Landscape With New Social Investment Platform

The Merge vision is to become the ‘go to’, digital meeting place for entrepreneurs and investors, and to truly make a difference in the world.

Merge Connect




Vital Stats

It’s no secret that finding the right investor for your venture is a challenge that most entrepreneurs face. The current process of finding investment is one that is outdated, and limits entrepreneurs due to a lack of time, and network that is needed to find the right investor. But, this doesn’t have to be the case in today’s digital society, says Zander Matthee and Brandon Bate, co-founders of Merge.

“By making the Internet the middleman, we are able to connect with each other much simpler and faster than before” was Zander’s response. “We have taken advantage of this, and have created a digital meeting place for entrepreneurs and investors” added Brandon.

Merge is a social platform that connects entrepreneurs and investors. It aims to simplify, refine and accelerate the process of finding investment for entrepreneurs, and the process of finding investment opportunities for investors. From idea to developed, the platform allows entrepreneurs to present a brief outline of their venture to a network of all investor types. While doing this, entrepreneurs are able to browse through, and connect with investor profiles that suit their requirements.

Related: 8 Codes Of Success That Helped Priven Reddy of Kagiso Interactive Media Achieve A Networth Of Over R4 Billion

From Private Investors to Venture Capital, and everything in between, Merge allows all investor types to join. Investors have the opportunity to personalise their feed to suit their investment preferences, and will be able to connect with innovative businesses – that are looking for investment – at their fingertips. Only once there is a mutual interest in each other, are users able to enter a secure private chat where they can discuss further and share documents under the protection of a digital NDA.

The two boys became good friends during their time in high school at St Stithians Boys College. However, it was only in their last year, 2016, that they decided to pursue their dreams and create the platform. They didn’t know how to code, so rather ironically, they needed some form of investment to get the platform off the ground.


“We knew we had a mountain to climb, but we believed in our vision and that we were really trying to make a difference, and if we could get others to see that, they would be onboard.” said Zander.

Related: Lessons From The Rich And Famous: Manage Your Money Like Oprah To Avoid Going Into Debt Like Nicholas Cage

Chris Peters is one of these individuals that bought into their vision, and became Merge’s first investor. As a successful entrepreneur and part time investor , Chris saw how much value the platform could bring to all entrepreneurs and investors alike. His marketing and strategic background gave him insight into how Merge could play a vital role in a lucrative space, Brand involvement.

“Entrepreneurship and SME development are two key factors that drive economic growth in developing countries like South Africa. That is why brands are currently getting involved, and looking to support entrepreneurs through various means. We have built a platform that allows these brands to successfully market, and execute on the programmes they have created to assist entrepreneurs.” said Chris

Merge was created to assist all entrepreneurs and investors in finding exactly what they are looking for, regardless of age, race, sex, financial position or social status. That is why anybody can sign-up as an entrepreneur. As long as you are determined and willing to work for your dreams. For too long has the investor space been seen as an “elite club for the select few”, and Merge is here to change that. Whether you’ve gotten your bonus at the end of the year and looking for new investment opportunities, or are an active investor, you can sign-up. Whether you’re currently working, or a retired industry leader, you can join as a mentor.

Their vision is to become the ‘go to’, digital meeting place for entrepreneurs and investors, and to truly make a difference in the world.

Continue Reading



Recent Posts

Follow Us

We respect your privacy. 
* indicates required.