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These alumni are not wasting opportunities

Author: Barefoot Teacher

Nkazimlo Miti and Chad Robertson are the founders of multi-award-winning waste management company, Regenize.

(Published - 29 November 2019)

Nkazimlo Miti and Chad Robertson are the founders of multi-award-winning waste management company, Regenize. They are innovators by accident and design whose fresh take on waste management may well radically shift the way we think about protecting our environment.

Firm friends by the time they undertook their BCom honours in 2014, their journey to UWC was remarkably similar. Both were influenced by older sisters attending UWC and the affordability of the courses at UWC, both had been interested in computers and gaming since primary school and both were intent on ITC careers by the time they finished high school – Chad at Gardens Commercial and Nkazi at Sea Point High.

“I wasn’t a model student in terms of going to class. It took a while for me to get to grip with things because I came off a gap year in which I taught football and lifeskills to kids for an organisation called Ambassadors in Sport,” says Nkazi.

Chad says he also took a while to adapt to university: “I guess I was still a high school kid during first year – a lot of socials, going to the beach – but trying to find the balance. From the second year on, I became much more serious, constantly working in the library or in the coffee shop.”

During his honours year, Chad conceived the idea of a business supplying 3D-printed objects. The notion of inviting Nkazi to partner in the venture came about quite naturally.

Chad says, “Nkazi and I became business partners because we both had the hardest work ethic that we know. When we did group work in our different groups, Nkazi and I would be the guys sitting at UWC all night finishing the group assignments.”

In the absence of business training, Nkazi says they unconsciously learned from the professionalism of the Information Systems Department, where he has now been lecturing part-time for five years.

“I think the IS Department helped us to see how a tight ship operates,” says Nkazi. “I am lecturing right now via Dr James who gave me the opportunity. That was really just someone looking at you, seeing potential and then entrusting you to be able to excel in a career that you weren’t necessarily even thinking of at the time.”

After investing their own money and many hours in “virtually becoming chemists” to develop 3D applications from waste plastic, they concluded that idea wasn’t economically viable, but saw an opportunity to focus on recycling plastic waste.

“Our intention was not to start a recycling collection company. We wanted to be a platform that matches recycling companies to households who wanted to recycle. However, recycling companies did not buy into our vision. We then made the decision that we’d perform our own collections,” says Chad.

Nkazi was able to apply some of his MCom Information Management Studies (2018) research [based on building maturity models for micro enterprises] to refine their business model. But theory and projections weren’t enough. To learn how the industry worked, they literally had to get their hands dirty.

Chad says, “We had no knowledge of the recycling industry. We had to earn our stripes from the bottom. In 2016, we started our own collection service for residents in Nkazi's garage. We sorted waste and we borrowed bakkies to do the collections.”

Although they made money, they wanted more than just another recycling company. While participating in the MTN venture incubation programme, they redeveloped the Regenize model, focusing on how to encourage citizens to donate enough waste material to ensure an economic return for informal suburban waste pickers.

Using Regenize’s mobile phone app, residents with recyclable waste alert waste pickers directly, who use customised pedal-powered carts to collect the waste. The pickers are provided with mobile devices by Regenize. Participating residents are not charged a fee for the service and are rewarded for their ‘donations’ with Remali, a virtual currency with which they can purchase airtime or data vouchers on the Regenize website (other incentives are being added).

After recently winning a competition and substantial funding from the SAB Foundation, CEO Chad and Nkazi, who is the chief operations officer, confidently expect to expand their operation in the province and later, nationally.

Chad recently married BCom Honours alumna Somaya Hendricks, whom he met when they were both first-years. He is completing his MPhil in Inclusive Innovation which is based on the Regenize experience, focusing on the integration process between informal waste collectors and formal organisations.

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