Supporting Young, Local Entrepreneurs and Start-up Businesses



Entrepreneurship should be encouraged and developed as entrepreneurs create and bring to life new technologies, products and services and create new markets and jobs along the way. In fact, economic growth is often enhanced by the efforts taken by entrepreneurs and especially social entrepreneurs. 

The dilemmas faced by the majority of entrepreneurs and start-up businesses are financial support and publicity. The establishment of a new business requires significant investment and individuals capable of funding their own enterprises are rare. Fortunately, appropriate funding mechanisms or programmes exist which can facilitate such entities. 

“Given that entrepreneurs and small businesses are being tasked with the massive responsibility of reviving the economy and creating of new jobs, we owe it them to improve the entrepreneurial ecosystem and ensure an enabling environment for businesses to grow and thrive. At Total, we encourage entrepreneurship through our Startupper Challenge,” says Tshilidzi Ramuedzisi, Head of Innovation and Corporate Affairs, Total South Africa

The first Startupper of the Year by Total Challenge, held in 2015-2016, involved 34 African countries. It aimed to encourage social entrepreneurship and help under-35-year-olds develop their concepts or start-ups less than 2 years old. Following the success of the first Challenge, the 2018-2019 Challenge was extended to a total of 55 countries around the world.

More than just a business challenge, the 2018-2019 Startupper of the Year by Total Challenge also reaffirms Total’s commitment to capacity building in the countries where it operates, worldwide. By helping innovative young entrepreneurs to realize their projects, the Challenge strengthens the local social fabric.

“We aim to support entrepreneurs, good ideas and projects that help address a widespread problem affecting communities in our country. South Africa has an exceptional pool of entrepreneurs with ideas that need energy to grow,” says Ramuedzisi. 

Through the Startupper Challenge, Total encouraged participants to enter and demonstrate how their innovations will empower people, improve living conditions and contribute to overall socio-economic well-being. In each participating country, a local jury comprised of experts from Total, entrepreneurs, specialists from incubators and accelerators and business leaders selected three winners after a competitive pitching event.

The winners were presented with their awards at an official ceremony held on 5 March 2019 at Hyatt Regency Johannesburg.

The three winners of the Startupper of the Year by Total Challenge in South Africa are:


1st Place, Nonhlanhla Phalama, Davinon Hydroponics:

Davinon Hydroponics aims to establish 50x30m hydroponics farms in rural schools and orphanages across the country. This socially-focused project is based on a model where 30% of all profit is re-invested back into the schools where the hydroponics farms are set up. This will in turn enable the schools to improve their facilities and quality of education. This solar-based solution is targeted at rural communities where there is little or no access to electricity; and the re-use of water minimises water consumption in water-scarce areas. The Davinon Hydroponics project will also contribute towards sustainable employment by creating opportunities for low and semi-skilled individuals to be trained to operate the farms and supply produce to the surrounding communities and beyond. 


2nd Place, Marnie Steyn, Feeding 1 Million People:

Marnie plans to establish hydroponic home-based farms that can be set up to function in the back yard of any ordinary household. She aims to leverage on her existing network of customers requiring organic food to create a viable demand base and educate home-based growers through online training and support. With Marnie’s “Feeding 1 Million People” solution, households will be able to generate an average income of R3500 per month. This will go a long way in reducing the financial burden on grants and feeding programmes.


3rd Place, Kutlwano Ngwarati, Boolyx:

Boolyx Edu-Tech is an online subscription platform for textbooks and academic publications which was established in response to the “Fees Must Fall” movement. Tertiary students can sign up on the platform for a small fee and read thousands of e-textbooks and other electronic academic material published by partner publishers. This solution seeks to make textbooks and academic publications both more affordable and accessible for all university students. The benefit to partner publishers is increased revenue through increased volumes.

These young entrepreneurs will collectively receive financial support of R 900 000 to develop their projects. They will also receive personalised support and coaching as well as a communications campaign to publicise their projects.

This year, a Top Female Entrepreneur category has been introduced to encourage the women entrepreneurs to take part in this Challenge. The winner of the Top Female Entrepreneur award is Nonhlanhla Phalama from Davinon Hydroponics who will join 55 other Top Female Entrepreneur title holders for a week in Paris where they will visit incubators, start-ups and also participate at the “Journée de la Femme Digitale”, a French event dedicated to women’s digital empowerment.

The second Startupper of the Year by Total Challenge, South Africa received 1300 entries, of which 476 were fully completed. In all, 13 finalists presented their projects to a jury of experts.

Davinon Hydroponics was also awarded the Grand Prize for the Southern Africa Zone. Together with the other Grand Prize Winners, Nonhlanhla Phalama from Davinon Hydroponics was invited to present her project to Total Senior Leadership and visit incubators, start-ups and network with other social entrepreneurs and innovators within France.