Rhodes students' tech waste management system puts them in line for R14m international prize

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Rhodes University's Team E-Smart: Nobuhle Ndebele (24), Lindokuhle Nene (25), Reitumetse Nkhahle (26) and Gauta Matlou (29). (PHOTO: Rhodes University)
Rhodes University's Team E-Smart: Nobuhle Ndebele (24), Lindokuhle Nene (25), Reitumetse Nkhahle (26) and Gauta Matlou (29). (PHOTO: Rhodes University)

Four Rhodes University PhD Chemistry students have come out tops in the 2019 Hult Prize Challenge for their electronic and electrical waste management system, putting them in line to win a $1m (about R14.3m) startup injection for their business idea.

Team E-Smart – Nobuhle Ndebele, 24; Lindokuhle Nene, 25; Reitumetse Nkhahle, 26; and Gauta Matlou, 29 – in April took part in the 2019 Hult Prize Regional Summit held at the Brookhouse International School in Nairobi, Kenya, where they were awarded the top position after going head-to-head against 45 other teams from across the globe, the university said in a statement.

Team E-Smart's business model, which aims to create job opportunities for the youth through collection of electronic and electrical waste materials and further recycling, repairing or repurposing into new market products, impressed the panel of judges.

The Hult Prize challenged university and college students to pitch a social-entrepreneurship startup that would create over 10 000 meaningful jobs in the next 10 years.

South Africa annually produces about 316 000 tons of electronic waste, the group explained, and only about 12% is collected and recycled before being exported to other countries.

'Agents of change'

Their aim was to contribute to the economy, while also promoting proudly South African goods.

"The electronic waste that is currently not collected and recycled or repurposed will raise about R15bn for the South African economy," team member Nene said.

Following their win, from July the team will spend eight weeks in the United Kingdom for the Hult Prize Acceleration programme, which aims to prepare over 25 winning teams from various regional summits for the final pitch competition, where the best business idea will win $1m as a startup injection, the university said.

Nene said Team E-Smart "decided to be the youth that is going to stand and create things for themselves".

"We are the driving force and agents of change and improvement in our country. We want to lay a platform for generations to come after us. They must know that as a human being, you can do anything you put your mind to. Students must not limit themselves based on specific disciplines that they are doing."

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