Winner of the Department of Science and Technology Director-General Award for Overall Excellence, category for small enterprises
When you put people first, excellence follows, says hearX
When government announced a few years ago that all school learners must be screened for hearing and vision loss in grades 1, 4 and 8, Professor De Wet Swanepoel knew this was an impossible task for South Africa’s approximately 600 audiologists.
Something would have to be done very differently, he realised, and an idea began germinating.
De Wet, who is part of the University of Pretoria’s Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology department, took his idea to a computer engineering colleague, Dr Herman Myburgh. Together, they built the world’s first clinical smartphone hearing test solution.
Knowing they needed the expertise to commercialise their invention, De Wet and Herman knocked on the door of serial entrepreneur and start-up investor Nic Klopper, who has founded seven businesses.
The result of this teamwork was the hearX Group, founded in 2015 with the vision, “healthy hearing for everyone, everywhere”.
hearX has already made a pretty good start with that. In less than three years, the business’s solutions have screened over 150 000 people, many of them in far-flung rural districts.
“From the beginning, our focus has been on bettering the lives of people. We are first and foremost a social impact company, screening for the masses,” says Tanya Boretti, hearX Marketing Manager. “We truly want to have an impact by making hearing care affordable and accessible.”
Putting its money where its mouth is, hearX has built a series of smart digital health solutions that are about 50% cheaper than conventional audiology tests and can reach many more people.
Says Tanya: “It all started with our founders wanting to solve a problem and coming up with an idea that would make a real impact. That sparked an entire business and has disrupted an entire industry. Excellence happens when you put people first.”
Winner of the Excellence in the Management of Innovation award for 2017, category for small enterprises
Hear how hearX has disrupted hearing screening
If there is one industry that has been desperate for disruption, it’s audiology, which deals with hearing and hearing loss. Until the hearX Group came along and disrupted the market, the industry hadn’t experienced much disruption before.
“We come out of an industry that was very traditional and almost stagnant. It was one of the least disrupted industries over the past decade,” says Tanya Boretti, Marketing Manager at hearX, a proudly South African company that is turning the audiology industry on its head.
Traditionally, to test someone’s hearing, the person would have to sit in an audiometric booth wearing headphones attached to a machine called an audiometer while an audiologist conducted hearing tests.
hearX has compressed all of this bulky equipment into hearScreen, a streamlined medical device consisting simply of a calibrated smartphone and headset. Apart from being just as reliable and accurate as a traditional audiometer, hearScreen has all kinds of advantages that conventional systems lack.
For one, it’s significantly more affordable. “Our solution is almost 50% cheaper than the traditional audiometer,” says Tanya.
Second, the hearX device is lightweight and portable – so instead of patients having to travel to clinics or hospitals to have their hearing screened, hearScreen can go to them. That’s critical considering government’s integrated health programme, which requires that all learners in grades 1, 4 and 8 be tested for vision and hearing loss.
“There are only 600 registered audiologists in South Africa and millions of schoolchildren,” says Tanya. “No way can the conventional model of screening ever reach all children at schools.”
hearScreen neatly overcomes the skills gap: it was built for the layperson and the person using it for screening need not be an audiologist.
In fact, hearX trains community members in areas around schools to use the device. “So we create jobs too,” Tanya says, adding: “There is no manual data capturing. The device does that. Once collected, the data is uploaded to a cloud-based management portal, encrypted and protected.”
If the screening results pick up any hearing loss, hearX hands the case over to an audiologist who does the intervention care.
Since 2015 when HearX was registered, hearScreen, which is patented and trademarked and ISO 13485 certified, has screened over 150 000 people across 25 countries. As Tanya puts it: “That speaks volumes about the power and reach of innovative technology.”
I Am Emerge, winner of Innovation Concepts in the category for emerging enterprises
App puts bulk buying power into township enterprises’ hands
Spaza shops do business worth around R9 billion a year and are the backbone of township economies but they face a relentless daily battle for survival. Typically, they lack access to credit, are vulnerable to crime and cannot compete on price with the big retailers unless they cut their margins to the limit. As for the discounts that bigger businesses routinely negotiate with suppliers, spaza shops simply don’t have the bargaining power.
Well, individually they don’t. Collectively, they are a force to be reckoned with, says Brian Makwaiba, MD of I Am Emerge, mass marketing specialists with a talent for bringing emerging enterprises and big businesses together.
Its award-winning Vuleka app taps into the collective buying power of township spaza shop owners, enabling them to order goods directly from the manufacturers and benefit from the discounts that go with bulk buying.
I Am Emerge does the legwork, including negotiating with the manufacturers, warehousing the goods that spaza shops order and delivering their purchases to their doorsteps.
“The goods are cheaper than they would be from wholesalers, so we save them time and money,” says Brian. “Where there are spaza shops who don’t have technology, we have youth marketers to take their orders manually.”
At this stage, I am Emerge’s network of spaza shops with bulk buying power spans three of Gauteng’s biggest townships: Alexandra, with around 500 members, Soweto with over 4 500 and Tembisa with around 2 000.
Vuleka is currently under redevelopment, the aim being to simplify it considerably, says Brian, who was a Gauteng Premier Excellence Award winner in 2017 and was named among South Africa’s top 50 entrepreneurs and Africa’s top 15 in 2016. “We’ve gone back to the drawing board because our users said our solution was too complicated. It had lists and a lot happening, when all users want is a catalogue-type app with pictures and prices.”
This is the essence of doing good business in townships, he says. “It’s about going on the ground and listening to your customers and delivering a product that speaks to their needs. For me, that’s the key to innovation.”
Winner of the Management of Innovation award for 2017, category for medium enterprises
Project overruns need not be the norm
Project overruns are notoriously common in South Africa, where power stations and high-speed trains have been built at significantly higher cost and over longer timeframes than originally planned. But it’s not just in South Africa that infrastructure and construction projects often drag out and cost more. Globally, overruns in costs and time range from 27% to 200%, according to Steven Golding of SSG Consulting.
“The software used is obviously ineffective,” says Steven, a mechanical engineer (and triathlete) who, after observing time and cost overruns on virtually every project he encountered in his 20 years in the construction industry, decided to do something about it.
He founded Pretoria-based SSG Consulting in 2008 – smack-bang in the middle of the global financial crisis – and started developing KEY360.
In a nutshell, KEY360 is a cloud-based and web-enabled platform for managing large-scale projects, on time and within budget, which it does by neatly integrating 140 different business systems and processes, with unlimited global access, data validation and real-time reporting.
It wasn’t long before SSG Consulting was doing well enough to move out of Steven’s Land Rover (“That’s where I started”) into proper offices and later into a Pretoria East property that is also a horse farm.
“We do things very differently from the norm,” he says. “Ever since we started out as an organisation, innovation has been part of what we do. We have a passion for developing new stuff and for helping organisations to develop their own innovation programmes.
“Although we started in project management as a core business, and this indeed still is, KEY360 has so many Enterprise functions that we now service many other industries.”
Recent innovations include the KEY360 app, called KEY30 10X, which provides mobile access to the KEY360 platform from a phone or iPad and speeds up business processes by 10 times. “We have the data to prove it,” Steven says.
He adds that it’s “easy” to innovate in an industry such as project management, precisely because there are so many problems to deal with.
One surprising aspect of SSG Consulting’s approach to innovation is that patenting innovations such as KEY360 and the KEY360 app are not priorities. Steven’s explanation is simple: “We’re not worried about anybody being able to do what we do. Our approach to challenges and to the required tech solutions is so unique and often subtle that it is not necessary to patent – thousands of ideas and innovations are built into the system. We are fundamentally different.”
TIPS™ really works for multiple tt100 award-winner
After winning four tt100 awards and two finalist positions, you’d think that PFK Electronics would be patting itself on the back and basking in the glory of being one of the biggest winners yet in the tt100 Business Innovation Awards Programme.
Far from it. “Winning doesn’t mean you’ve made it. Winning means you are aware of your weaknesses and where you can improve,” says Alan Sullivan, chief technical officer of the multiple-award-winning Durban-based company.
This is not false modesty. As Alan points out, PFK Electronics is one of a handful of South African auto electronics manufacturers left, and upping its game constantly is a matter of sheer survival.
“Our market is international and it is becoming more and more difficult to keep competitors from the East at bay,” he says, adding that Indian and Chinese companies especially have the advantage of significant R&D support from their governments. “If the South African government only understood how thin our engineering industry is…”
PFK Electronics is definitely not waiting for government to come to the industry’s rescue. “We have the benefit of 40 years of R&D investment behind us and we are continually evolving, continually looking at ourselves to see where we are and where we can get better. In this business, if you’re going to say, ‘I’m a fat cat now, I can relax’, you’re lost.”
Put another away, “If you do not change, you can become extinct.” These famous words are from one of Alan’s favourite books, Who moved my cheese?, by best-selling author Dr Spencer Johnson.
Staying on its toes is part of the PFK Electronics ethos, and an important part of that in the past 10 years has been to embed the tt100 TIPS framework into the business.
Says Alan: “TIPS™ is not some fancy idea that is all theoretical. If you are aware of what it means and how it all fits together, TIPS makes it so much easier to understand the connection between technology, innovation and the human factor, and to bring it all together.”
Look no further than the *four tt100 awards that PFK Electronics walked off with in November 2017 in the category for large enterprises. It’s a hard act to follow, but then following isn’t how winners are made.
*MTN Award for Excellence in Innovation, Eskom Award for Excellence in the Management of Systems, Blank Canvas International Award for Sustainability and, last but not least, the Department of Science and Technology Minister Award for Overall Excellence.
Winner of the Management of People award for 2017, category for emerging enterprises
How to compete for talent with the big boys
When competing for talent against the likes of Amazon and Google, cool office furniture, refreshments on tap and PlayStation can only take you so far. You can’t afford to pay the salaries and benefits that the tech giants can, so you’ve got to come up with something that they can’t – or won’t – offer.
How about letting your own people take all the credit for the solutions they invent while working for your company, and even putting their names on the patents? Yes, indeed. That’s probably unheard of in Silicon Valley, not to mention corporate South Africa, where licences, royalties and patents make big money for the companies that own them.
But then again, ThisIsMe is an emerging enterprise that hasn’t got where it is by doing what everyone else does.
“We are not a corporate machine, although most of our clients are corporates. There’s not much of a hierarchy here and if you have something to say, you put up your hand and say it. The opinions of senior management are expressed alongside those of the most junior staff members,” says David Thomas, managing director and one of the company’s founders.
He describes the culture of ThisIsMe, which specialises in digital identity verification and has about 100 clients, as innovative and intellectually collaborative. “It’s important to have a set of clear and understandable goals, focused around your client’s requirements, and then to give your staff free rein to get it done. Junior staff are part of the decisions and can see their work become legitimate products.”
Products that are the brainchildren of its own staff, most of whom are in their twenties, include a mobile verification solution, a breach-tracking solution that can test whether an email address has been compromised, and a soon-to-be-launched product that protects against identity theft.
“As an agile business, we can make a decision on a product, develop it and roll it out in two or three months. Corporates take at least a year,” says David, adding that ThisIsMe has two current patents and a third pending, with staff members as the inventors, not the company.
Another key element of its people management philosophy is to hire people “who are more intelligent and more capable than us”, says David, “us” being the management team. “There’s no point in hiring someone you think you are better than. We believe it’s crucial to utilise the people you employ and to judge people by their actions and nothing else.”
Passion4Performance: Winner of the Department of Science and Technology Director-General’s Award for Overall Excellence, category for emerging enterprises
Qualified by experience: it’s how you use knowledge that counts
Most qualifications take years to complete. However, if what you already know – and can actually do with that knowledge – is taken into account, your completion time could be compressed into a matter of months, weeks or even days. This is the beauty of recognition of prior learning (RPL), the key to which is credible, meticulous and instant assessment, says Darryn van den Berg, founder and Visionary MD of Passion4Performance.
Done properly, RPL can save employers substantial amounts of time and money on unnecessary classroom-based training, while giving employees the recognition they deserve for their skills and experience.
“In 2017, one of our clients had 40 human resources managers who were doing a diploma training course that would usually take two years. With RPL, the average completion time was three months but quite a few of the learners completed the course in three weeks and one lady did it in three days!” says Darryn.
Learning by doing
“80% of learning takes place in the workplace,” he says. “People learn by doing. You might learn the basic rules in the classroom but learning to apply them in the workplace is what matters. When you go for training, you might already know a lot of the content and as such only need one or two training modules to wrap up your qualification.”
This is where Passion4Performance (P4P) comes in. “Knowledge is good, but a knowledge test does not show what the learner is capable of doing in a real-life scenario. So, instead of writing a test, learners go back to the workplace, apply the skills acquired and are assessed in a live environment.”
In a nutshell, P4P’s online assessment process works by connecting technology, innovation and people, as follows:
- The learner undergoes training (which has nothing to do with P4P, as the company works only with assessment, not with learning content).
- Back in the workplace, the learner creates evidence (eg a 20-minute video clip) of him or herself applying the skill covered in the training.
- The learner uploads the evidence into P4P (the online interface), which immediately alerts the training provider’s assessor.
- The assessor then accesses the evidence and conducts the assessment, using specified criteria in an online checklist and posting the results into P4P for tracking and reporting purposes.
The assessment process – which is entirely online – continues until the learner is considered to have closed any learning gaps and successfully acquired all the necessary skills.
“Everything happens immediately,” says Darryn. “The assessor is notified as soon as anything has been done by the learner, and vice-versa, again saving time and costs. P4P enables the assessment process and is therefore relevant to any sector and for any content – as long as there are assessment criteria.”
The meaning of excellence
Asked what excellence means to P4P, he says: “Excellence is a quality which consistently surpasses ordinary or minimum set standards. We make the impossible more possible.”
Make no mistake: What P4P does is significantly more challenging to do than through traditional training methods (and yet is proving to be far more valuable to business, says Darryn). Which explains why the company is one of a handful in the world with the capability to do digital, skills-based assessment as opposed to the usual paper-based or knowledge test-based assessment standard.
“Our approach to excellence is to understand the current standards, using legislation, current practices, policies and company data. We then distil the noise of too much writing into focused themes. Next, we engage with our user to prioritise the themes and agree on the pressing builds that will enable excellence. We then build and test and test and test – and then we excel!”
The tt100 adjudicators thought so too.