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Disciple of recycling

A young man who grew up in Valhalla Park and moved to Goodwood at the age of 12 is among the top 15 finalists in the City of Cape Town’s #YouthStartCT Challenge. This competition serves as an accelerator programme for start-up entrepreneurs aged 18 to 35.

Chad Robertson (24) is an energetic young man who says he enjoys trail runs in the forest with Nelson –“he’s our dog but more of a little brother”. He also enjoys watching movies at the cinema – not with Nelson, but with his fiancé. He loves coffee and watching Liverpool FC in action. And he enters “hackathons to create solutions to the world’s biggest problems”.

But Chad is also the CEO and co-founder of Regenize, which launched a recycling-for-points service in November last year. He describes Regenize as “a recycling collection service with a twist of innovation”. The twist, he says, is a mission to motivate South Africans to recycle, which is done by means of a “rewards mobile platform”.

“We provide our recyclers with recycling points based on how much they have recycled. In turn, these points can be used to purchase vouchers on our platform,” says Chad.

Regenize did not start off as a recycling company. It was born in 2014 when Chad was busy with his BCom Information Systems Honours Degree at UWC (which he completed cum laude). “I fell in love with what was then a new technology, 3D printing. I saw so many possibilities and opportunities and spent some time researching this technology,’’ says Chad. He decided to start a 3D printing business and began research on how to start a business.

“One of the most common first steps I saw was to find a good co-founder and there was only one person I knew who could work as hard as I did – Nkazimlo Miti, my business partner.” Nkazi was a fellow honours degree student at the time and is now the chief operations officer at Regenize.

Initially their idea was to allow people to post a two-dimensional (2D) design on their website, which they would then transform into a three-dimensional (3D) design to be printed with a 3D printer.

As both of them were business rookies, they ‘‘wasted a lot of time trying to bring this idea to life,” says Chad. In 2015 (after completing their honours degrees) Chad got a job in corporate while Nkazi began his master’s degree.

“As I now had a job, I was able to invest some money to purchase the equipment we required,” says Chad. They then also came up with the idea of using recycled plastic to print the products. To convert plastic waste into 3D printing material they had to purchase a machine – an extruder – from the USA for around R14 000. He says they were spending a lot of time designing the products that would eventually be printed once they had purchased the 3D printer.

When they eventually received the extruder, the machine did not work. Chad says it took a few flights, but after a few months they managed to get their money back, which they used to buy a different (and cheaper) extruder and a 3D printer.

As they now had all the equipment, they thought things would go smoothly, but contrary to this belief the machinery was a constant source of problems.

‘‘By the end of 2015 we were demoralised and I left for Canada for work reasons,’’ says Chad.

He had some time to reflect while away and upon his return in April last year set up a meeting with Nkazi. They agreed to what they called “The Final Push”.

“We decided to give it another go and continued to work on Regenize,” says Chad. He says they now had an improved understanding of the recycling landscape and identified another, bigger problem that needed solving – people in South Africa were not recycling (with apparently less than 2% doing so).

“We then began to investigate how we could use our skills to change this status, and that’s how the recycling points were created.”

When asked about the lessons learned in the process of starting a business Chad says he can write a book, but some of the most important lessons are: Find a mentor as early as possible, as this will result in fewer mistakes and less time and money wasted. Focus on the basics before innovation. Fail as quickly as possible, since failure means lessons learned. And if you’re not an industry expert, find one.

Regenize is currently operating in eight areas within Cape Town, with 90 households signed up for weekly or bi-weekly collection of recyclables. They also have some free drop-off locations at Engen service stations. “We offer our recyclers 11 voucher options, from airtime and data to Pick n Pay vouchers and more,” says Chad.

The top 15 finalists of the #YouthStartCT Challenge will present their final pitches on Saturday 10 June, after which the top three will be announced at an awards ceremony on Youth Day. The winners will share R100 000 worth of prizes and be given the chance to partner with the City on projects that will provide sustainable employment opportunities.

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