28 June 2024

This is Part 2 of a two-part series.

World Micro-, Small, and Medium-sized Enterprises Day, 27 June 2024: In 2017, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) declared 27 June as the Micro-, Small, and Medium-sized Enterprises (MSME) Day to raise awareness of the tremendous contributions of smaller businesses to the achievement of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The first quarter 2024 statistics released by Statistics South Africa (Stats SA) revealed that the youth unemployment rate has risen to 45,5%. At the same time, with the rapid advancement of fourth industrial revolution (4IR) technology, low and middle-skill employment opportunities are predicted to gradually decline in the coming years, becoming replaced by jobs requiring highly technical skills. Jobs will be heavily centred around new digital technologies such as AI, big data and machine learning. The concerning fact is that the number of students studying in STEM fields at tertiary level is too low. This clearly threatens our country’s progression in the digital future since a skills mismatch means that a vast majority of young job seekers would essentially be unemployable.

This makes fostering a culture of entrepreneurship even more crucial, together with prioritising digital skills development. Policymakers, developers, private businesses and science councils can play their part to support small businesses through capacity building, as well as providing funding and partnership networks. MSMEs also need to be connected to regional supply chains.

Innovation Award: SMME Award Winner: LignOrganic won the 2023 Innovation Award: SMME sponsored by the National Intellectual Property Management Office (NIPMO) since 2019, at the prestigious 2023 NSTF-South32 Awards, also known as the ‘Science Oscars of SA’. The organisation was recognised for their revolutionary biomass conversion technology, that is helping to replace chemicals derived from fossil fuels with biochemicals such as lignin, which they produce, and has successfully formulated and commercialised as a skincare brand.

Mangoele has been passionate about environmental protection since he was a student, which is the main driver of his invention. He uses invasive plant waste from the Johannesburg City Parks and Zoo, and then creates useful materials after a series of biomass research investigations. He explains: “I found a way of doing this dual lignin extraction — there’s lignin and it precipitates out with the carboxylic acid. I know it’s very maverick — like how I started doing this science”.

The lignin he produces can be used in UV-resistant cosmetics, construction, agriculture and fuel. LignOrganic is the first sulphur free producer of the biochemical in Africa. He explains that unlike other power plants that work with biomass, his company uses 100% of its biomass input, and it is fully applied in all the products they produce, which include skincare products and lignin-free cigars.

“Our work is important as we are helping the world move from using fossil fuels to using more plant-based products,” said Mr Mangoele. He expressed his gratitude to the DSI for giving him a capital push to start his business. He has also established partnerships with Wits and the Council for Scientific Industrial Research (CSIR), for prototype trials of his other projects. He concludes: “The next step now is building a bigger facility. We’re also increasing the team size and getting more investors on board. But the biggest challenge now that we are working on day and night is to get distribution for our products”.

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