One year down the line, we catch up with Phillip Sellwe, of Bayon Holdings, who is the brain behind the invention of a Pollution Free Power Generator. With his prototype in hand and a can do attitude Phillip embarked upon a journey of more than 9000 miles to Helsinki, for Slush 2017. Together with 4 other start-ups he got the opportunity to network, get exposure and pitch his environmentally friendly product to a crowd of curious investors.
What stage was Bayon holdings (BH) in before the pitching competition in Botswana?
Before the pitching competition, BH was at an idea stage with an early prototype.
My exposure to international markets and networking events was very limited. After meeting SAIS, our growth is evident so I am more confident and bolder than before. After the pitching competition, I got an opportunity to present my company at the Africa Union Private Sector Forum in November 2017. This experience fired me up to be even bolder and take on any stage! With the feedback from the international community we received throughout the program our product, the Pollution Free Power Generator (PFPG) was developed further.
So where are you heading to now? What’s on the horizon?
Now we are geared towards fighting global warming in an even more focused manner. We have invented a gas production unit which is powered by the PFPG to produce hydrogen gas, which can be used to replace fossil fuel in the automobile industry. We are even developing other products to complement the service offering of Bayon Holdings. One of them is a generator based on hydrogen gas, which has opportunities to replace fossil fuels especially in the automobile industry. We have also recognised other avenues for our company for example in nutrition, as our team has strong skills for inventions and a drive to make an impact. Currently we are preparing for a full launch of the PFPG in collaboration with EcoHub, another SAIS startup from 2017, based in Botswana. The launch will take place in November 2018 at Botswana Innovation Hub. Stay tuned to see how our generator powers an eco-house! This partnership between start-ups has been excellent, and it was born under the SAIS Programme.
That is really impressive! But what do you believe are some challenges that early stage entrepreneurs face, which you have also experienced?
In our field the regulations are very strict, and one has to comply. Because of this the full launch of the product and consequent sales have been delayed unfortunately. Some regulations also require well-furnished workstations according to specific standards, and this poses a challenge to inventors like me, who work from our garages. However, Botswana Innovation Hub (BIH) has been very helpful in trying to get our product to market.
Okay, so how has the exposure of SLUSH affected your entrepreneurial journey?
Had I not encountered BIH or SAIS, I would only have a product but no business model, which is essential in taking the product to market. I was just an introvert inventor in a garage with an idea. After Slush I grew into a lion. I became bolder in pitching my idea and better at selling my product. A platform like Slush with its international participants provides an opportunity to pitch your idea to several people and you gain more perspective about your product and business. The networking was a great learning opportunity too! I am still getting inquiries from people from Finland and Dubai as a result.
That is really awesome! So, what opportunities do you believe are available for other African entrepreneurs?
Many societal problems in Africa offer a great ground for entrepreneurship, as solutions are desperately needed. African entrepreneurs have an advantage in understanding the problems well enough to create smart solutions to address them. I feel there are plenty of incubation opportunities available and together with programmes like SAIS which offer great chances to entrepreneurs. SAIS is here at the right time and by bridging Southern African actors together with international ones. It is important that developed nations recognise opportunities in Africa and see the talent that is here.
In light of that, what would you advice other entrepreneurs to pursue?
I would advice my fellow entrepreneurs not to focus too much on the inventing or innovating and overlooking the business side of things. Ultimately it is about sales and the sight of this is sometimes lost, so having a business mentality is crucial. Be open to learn from those who are experts in the field so that you can grow. Research your markets and competition, and remember to network!