WiBox founders transform SA power cuts into start up success

If you’re South African, you’ll know that the concept of “load shedding” has been a reality since 2008 when Eskom, the country’s electricity public utility, first started implementing planned supply interruptions.

Despite multiple interventions to stabilize the electricity supply, South Africans still live in darkness and are disconnected from affordable solutions.

For three young entrepreneurs – Brian Gadisi, Alan Gie and Themba Hadebe – the load shedding crises presented an opportunity for innovation that is making a tangible difference in the lives of thousands of South Africans across the country by keeping the WIFI on even when the power is off.

The three of them met in 2020, while they were studying for a postgraduate diploma in entrepreneurship at the University of Cape Town. It was a surprise to learn that they would become a successful business two years later with their product sold in major South African retailers.

The WiBox is a mini-UPS designed to power your router and fibre during a power outage. Photo: Supplied/Ventureburn
The WiBox, a mini-UPS, is designed to power your router or fibre during an outage. Photo: Supplied/Ventureburn

The WiBox was born out of a university project.

Arion Power is a strong start-up in South Africa today.

Although load shedding has affected students’ work and study, it was their boredom at not being able use smartphones or laptops during power outages, as well as not being able watch Netflix, binge-watch, or to access the internet, that motivated them to look into alternative options.

“There were no affordable products in the market when we started. You can’t afford one of those big inverters as a student, so we started thinking about what it is we actually needed, and the answer is simply a running WIFI connection in order to access your phone or laptop. That was the concept behind the WiBox,” shares 24-year-old co-founder, Alan Gie.

WiBox guarantees business continuity

One could describe it without any technical background. the story of Arion Power as a perfect storm scenario. It’s a classic story about people who are in the right place at a right time.

“Our entrepreneurial journey started with us immediately solving a problem. With load shedding beginning during lockdown and people working from home, we had a huge pool of clients right from the start. It was a case of opportunity meets perfect timing for us,” comments co-founder Themba Hadebe, also 24-years old.

“We realised there is a far bigger problem that people are experiencing in our country with regards to business continuity and simply just trying to stay connected,” explains the third member of the group, 24-year-old Brian Gadise.

The group decided to keep the business going and formalised their relationships. They divided responsibilities according to their strengths, which has been a successful model for them up to today. It can be difficult for even the most experienced entrepreneur to navigate through constantly shifting priorities in a business.

“We moved straight from university into running a business which was quite daunting so receiving business support from the likes of the Innovator Trust incubation program and having our incubator partners to help us in putting systems and structures in place has been incredibly valuable especially because we’re moving from being reactive to a more proactive business,” says Gie.

The small-business team will form part of the Innovator Trust’s Enterprise Development programme, which targets IT-based SMMEs by providing business skills training, mentorship, and resources over a two-year incubation period.

After the WiBox’s success, the team has already started plans to launch other products to help provide affordable access to alternative power solutions.

“We’ve realised that the business goes far beyond just the product we started with, so we are actively working to develop new solutions for different applications. We ultimately want to solve the bigger problem at hand which is access to sustainable power,” shares Gadisi.

  • South African-based entrepreneurs are invited to complete the SMME Insider Survey  to share their experiences and the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic upon their businesses.
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