Paseka Lesolang won the R1m first prize in the City of Joburg’s Green City Startup competition for his WHC Leak-Less Valve to save water in toilet cisterns. Picture: SUPPLIED
Paseka Lesolang won the R1m first prize in the City of Joburg’s Green City Startup competition for his WHC Leak-Less Valve to save water in toilet cisterns. Picture: SUPPLIED

LIFE is tough for the droves of waste-collection trolleymen who rummage through residential dirt bins for plastic, metal and glass objects before the trash collection lorries arrive. They then haul their laden trolleys to scrap merchants’ yards.

Now, thanks to a brainy young entrepreneur and the City of Joburg’s Green City Startup initiative, their labours will become a little easier.

The project offers a purse of R5m in start-up funding to be divided among a winner and two runners-up in a competition aimed at rewarding the innovation of products or services with an environmental purpose. The prize money will be spent on developing, producing and marketing the winning entries.

"The new thinking can relate to energy, transport, waste or water as long as the end-product or process is green," says Ravi Naidoo, City of Joburg executive director for economic development.

"The R5m seed funding underwrites idea design and business start-up training, promo pitch videos, proof-of-concept costs and winners’ prizes. Principally, the criteria for project acceptance are that they must be innovative, green and scalable into a manufacturing business."

The first prize of R1m went to Paseka Lesolang, 27, a scientist whose toilet cistern leak valve will save millions in lost litres and homeowners thousands of rands in saved water.

Sean Moolman, 41, received R500,000 to further develop his electricity-usage management system. Trash trolley inventor, Gabriel Ally, 24, and Yolandi Schoeman, 37, who developed water-purifying eco-islands, took joint third spot in the competition and R350,000 each.

The 2015 Green City Startup initiative attracted more than 159 ideas for the second season this year. The top 20 entries were selected last month and the contestants must submit their business plans and model.

They will receive further training, and at the end of this month, will face a panel of judges. Eight finalists will be selected and funded for the development of their products over four months, culminating in a presentation with the judges.

The winners will be announced in August.

The annual competition joins the ranks of the R50m Community Innovation Fund and HackJozi, a R5m information and communications technology-development competition.

The Green City Startup and Community Innovation Fund is run jointly by Resolution Circle and the Universityof Johannesburg.

HackJozi is run jointly by Wits University and the Johannesburg Centre for Software Engineering.

Lesolang, who won the competition last year, says water leaks cost SA more than R7bn annually, contributing to the scary reality that clean water consumption might exceed supply by 2025. Toilets use 30% of the water used in an average home. "If the cistern leaks, the problem is serious and costly," he says. "Because toilets continuously replenish themselves, the problem often goes unnoticed."

Lesolang of Ga-Rankuwa in Tshwane, devised the ingeniously simple WHC Leak-Less Valve that allows water to refill cisterns following a normal flush. However, it will not replenish water that leaks.

"The householder then checks to see why the cistern is empty and should then realise that there’s a leak that needs fixing and that could save at least 10% on the water bill."

Moolman, whose PowerOptimal electricity-management technology won R500,000 in the competition, identified efficient energy usage as a critical area for the economy, from supply constraint and sustainability perspectives.

"Faced with runaway tariffs, energy management is becoming increasingly important to business sustainability and profitability," Moolman says.

"PowerOptimal management technology helps reduce peak power demand by 30% to 50%, with very little impact on normal activity, realising a saving of some 20% on an electricity bill.

"It provides a range of electricity consumption and billing-management solutions that puts the power back in the electricity customer’s hands, offering an innovative share of savings approach, generated through peak-demand reduction."

Moolman is an investment committee member of The Innovation Hub’s Startup Support Fund, and a mentor with the Maxum Incubator. He has a PhD in chemical engineering from the University of Pretoria.

An aspiring social entrepreneur, Ally might yet be named the patron saint of Johannesburg’s ubiquitous waste collectors for inventing the Recycle e-Trike. He has developed a 500W electrically assisted tricycle designed to double their output and improve their safety on the road.

"It can transport 150kg of recyclable waste over 50km," he says. "It is fitted with disk brakes, brake lights, indicators, a headlamp and an interesting-sounding hooter. The 1.2m³ loading box acts (a billboard for) recycling awareness campaigns and sponsor-identification."

Schoeman is an ecological engineer with a background in conservation management and civil engineering. Her winning product tackles the effects of urbanisation on water and sanitation in Johannesburg.

Her water-purifying eco-rafts provide an ecological integrated and sustainable way of ridding water of impurities, with the added benefit of carbon sequestration.

It can be applied to a range of development types, from informal settlements to heavy industry. It is low-maintenance and cost-effective with wide-ranging economic, social and environmental benefits.

She is the founder and MD of Baoberry and the Ecological Engineering Institute of Africa. She is also an alumnus of the Brightest Young Minds 2006 Initiative and is studying for a doctorate.

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