Nuts and electricity bolts: KZN Grade 11 girls score big with eco-friendly coal business

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Thulile Zikhali, Zanele Khwela and Tiffany Ogbonnaya pitching their business plan.
Thulile Zikhali, Zanele Khwela and Tiffany Ogbonnaya pitching their business plan.
  • Three Grade 11 pupils are over the moon after their eco-friendly business plan won them cash, tablets and bursaries. 
  • The winning business plan consists of eco-friendly coal sourced from marula nuts. 
  • The coal is sourced from marula nuts in an effort to reduce the mining of fossil fuels and the depletion of natural resources.

Three Grade 11 girls from Sibusisiwe Comp Tech High School in KwaZulu-Natal were the overall winners at the Step Up 2A Green Start Up National Youth Entrepreneurship Awards, bagging a R20 000 cash prize, tablets and bursaries for their eco-friendly business plan which uses marula nuts to source coal.

Thulile Zikhali, Zanele Khwela and Tiffany Ogbonnaya, all 16 years old, said they were still in shock after bagging the award.

Speaking to News24, the eager teens said their winning business concept recognised the insufficiency of coal as an energy source, and that they had decided to create an alternative that is environmentally friendly. The coal is conceptually sourced from marula nuts in an effort to reduce the mining of fossil fuels and the depletion of natural resources.

"When we were doing life orientation earlier this year, our teacher gave us a project on how to find environmentally friendly energy sources, and from our research we found a case study on the fact that you could make coal with marula nuts. And we thought, 'Why hasn’t anyone done that before?'

"When we entered the Step Up to a Start Up competition, which required us to come up with a start-up idea that solved an environmental issue, we’d already had the basics of our plan and we expanded on the concept for the competition," said Tiffany. 

The girls having just been announced as the winners of the Step Up 2A Start Up National Youth Entrepreneurship Awards.
Supplied Supplied

The three teens said they had spent eight months working on the winning project.

"We wrote about it our Life Orientation class first. We [then] worked on it during break times, and we’d discuss the idea and do more research. Then we entered the Start Up competition and we expanded our concept further and turned it into a business idea," Zanele said.

"We then made the top 10 in the competition and were invited to the bootcamp process in Johannesburg. There we took the concept further, as we learnt more about entrepreneurship and business concepts that can help the environment at the same time."

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According to the girls, the initial plan came about when they had to do a life orientation project on environmentally friendly energy sources.

"But we then entered the Start Up competition, which required a business idea that also solved an environmental problem, and so we realised we had the perfect concept," Tiffany added.

Marula nuts

"We collect the nuts, and then we burn them for 45 minutes, and then they turn into coal. The marula nut coal then works the same way as other coal and can be used as a heat source. It’s perfect because it comes from a renewable source, and from an indigenous tree," Thulile said.

The girls said they were currently working on plans to turn it into a real business, even though they were "still only high school kids".

According to the teens, when they were announced as the overall winners, they couldn't believe it.

Tiffany said:

I'm not the kind of person who cries when I'm happy, but I did. I didn't expect to win, and there were so many teams with great business ideas, and I really didn't think we stood a chance. We didn't expect it.

"I was so surprised. I'd said to the girls, 'Oh, we didn't make it, but we'll try next time.' But when they called our names, it was like a dream come true. I even asked Zanele to pinch me. I was so happy," added Thulile.  

Zanele said: "I also really wasn’t expecting to be called up as the winning team because the other teams were also brilliant, but when they called up our name I was so excited and so proud."

Proud teacher

The girl's proud teacher Thandenani Myende said he was "happy" that the girls had won. 

"The government speaks so much about empowering women, and I feel that I've really played a role in doing this by helping these girls on their journey to winning the competition," he said.

"It’s so important to get kids involved in eco-friendly businesses. We have all started experiencing the issues of global warming, and these projects will help us save what we have left and teach the learners to be responsible citizens who are aware of what’s happening in the world, and helping it become cleaner, and more sustainable."

Primestars managing director Martin Sweet with the winning trio Tiffany Ogbonnaya, Zanele Khwela, Thulile Zikhali from Sibusisiwe Comp-Tech High School in KZN.
Supplied Supplied

The girls plan to kick-start the business next year.

"We are planning to start the business next year, then we want people to look after our business while we are in matric, but then after (we are done with school) we can focus on it," said Thulile.  

The Step Up 2 A Green Start Up National Youth Green Entrepreneurship Programme, run by youth development agency Primestars, has over the last eight years helped nearly 100 000 youngsters find the power to be a "positive force for both the planet and job-hungry South Africans", by harnessing environmental challenges as new business opportunities.

"To create entrepreneurs and reduce our high unemployment rate, our youth will need to learn skills and develop competencies that will enable them to create businesses and become gainful employers in a circular, restorative, inclusive and clean economy," said Primestars Managing Director Martin Sweet.

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