College of Agriculture, Engineering
and Science (CAES)

Mechanical Engineering Student to Represent South Africa in Switzerland

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Mechanical Engineering student, Ms Nonjabulo Roberta Gasa, will represent South Africa at the Technology Innovation Agency (TIA)-Swiss Business Development Programme, to be held in Switzerland in October.

Gasa is the Managing Director of multi-award-winning tech and engineering startup company, SmartiPants Technology that is helping to gear Africa up for the fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) through its innovative services and developments.

‘We are consultants involved in current tech trends, developing technologies such as Mechit Robotic Kits and drone smart enterprise systems for the agricultural sector,’ explained Gasa. ‘We also seek to empower communities with skills such as 3D printing, robotics, mechatronics and coding.’

Gasa has been nominated as one of the finalists in TIA-Swiss Business Development, a collaboration between the South African and Swiss embassies that seeks to promote technology and science innovation and business in South Africa. The collaboration is supported by one of South Africa’s leading innovative organisations, Technology Innovation Agency (TIA) which will help 10 shortlisted businesses develop their tech-based business models. They will receive advanced entrepreneurial training by the University of Basel and the Swiss Institute of Entrepreneurship.

The TIA kept its eye on Gasa after she came first in the ENSPIRE Pitch Den hosted by UKZN InQubate and TIA in October 2018. ENSPIRE is UKZN’s entrepreneurship skills programme developed and managed by UKZN InQubate. It aims to provide UKZN students with an opportunity to learn basic business skills and implement these skills in starting a business. The programme is one of the University’s strategies to equip its students to deal with the growing global unemployment crisis.

Director of UKZN InQubate, Ms Suvina Singh is delighted that Gasa is one of the 10 finalists. ‘Nonjabulo’s growth and boundless success makes her an excellent entrepreneurial ambassador for technologically savvy youth and female entrepreneurs in our country. She has combined her passion for technology and community development and is leading a new brand of entrepreneurial culture taking South Africa into and beyond the fourth Industrial Revolution,’ said Singh.

Last year, Gasa was selected as an Inspiring Fifty nominee, a Dutch based initiative led by CoCreate for the top 50 inspiring tech women in South Africa.

‘I have a great passion for promoting women in engineering and empowering communities,’ said Gasa.

Under her leadership, SmartiPants has won numerous awards, including the iBelong Excellence Award from Transnet, awards from Innovate Durban and most recently, one from the Moses Kotane Institute for being the most innovative company in the ICT category. Gasa is currently a Durban Global Shaper.

She said that she is grateful to TIA and the Swiss Business Development Programme for this opportunity.

‘I am extremely excited as this means I will be able to get help from TIA to commercialise my tech products. I will also get an opportunity to network and partner with other businesses and meet investors during my stay in Switzerland, which is one of the most technologically advanced countries in the world.’

‘Nonjabulo Gasa has displayed a truly inspirational spirit filled with passion and drive for her innovation “mechatronic robotic it” within the 4IR mechatronic realm,’ said Ms Senisha Moonsamy, head of ISD at TIA. ‘It was remarkable to see her growth and ability to digest what her local mentor and trainer advised for the final pitch.’

Gasa is currently focusing on growing her business and looks forward to enrolling for an MBA.

‘SmartiPants is set to launch disruptive tech products this year, one of which is a drone smart enterprise system which will help farmers detect stressed areas and identify potential threats such as pests and diseases in livestock and crops. SmartiPants has also prototyped an innovative set of artificial intelligence based robotic kits to prepare the youth with coding and engineering skills,’ she said.

Words: Zolile Duma

Photograph: UKZN InQubate