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PE startup invited to Silicon Valley

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The founders of Millbug in Port Elizabeth have been invited on a one-month trip to America to visit Silicon Valley – the world’s most influential dreamland for ICT start-ups.

Millbug – a client of Seda Nelson Mandela Bay ICT Incubator (SNII) in Port Elizabeth –  members Sabelo Sibanda and Thulisile Volwana also founded another company Tuse along with Michael Kyazze.

Shortly after the launch of Tuse’s public beta version of the Tuse application on the Google Play store, they were invited to join Founders Space in Silicon Valley.

Sibanda hails from Port Elizabeth while Volwana is from Engcobo in the Transkei while Kyazze is from Uganda.
Sibanda and Volwana both studied Commerce at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) while Kyazze Michael studied Computer Science at NMMU.

The three met through a mutual friend about three years ago.

“Founders Space are one of the top 10 start-up accelerators in Silicon Valley according to Forbes magazine. During the course of the programme, we will interact with corporates, angel investors and the top venture capitalists in Silicon Valley to hopefully take our offerings to the entire world,” said an excited Sabelo Sibanda, co-founder of Millbug.

The Tuse application, which launched earlier last year, is an Android app that allows people to communicate freely without the need for traditional telecommunication infrastructure.

“The Tuse app had a public beta launched and the feedback the company received from more than 250 beta testers has helped us design the final product was released in late-December last year. An iOS version of the Tuse app is also being developed,” said Sibanda and will be available in February 2016.

“We hope our stay at Silicon Valley will help us build a large network of partners and experts who can help Millbug rapidly deploy our innovations. The problems we are solving are unique and will need significant resources to deploy at scale,” said Sibanda.

Millbug, were the developers of the solar powered Vuya Tablet PC in 2013.

After joining SNII three years ago, Millbug today still benefit from the incubator’s expertise.

“SNII have been of great assistance in getting the device (Vuya Tablet) tested and certified for sale in compliance with South African law,” said Sibanda.

Millbug’s co-founder Thulisile Volwana was also mentioned by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for releasing Africa’s first solar powered tablet, the Vuya Tablet.

The tablet uses wi-fi only for connectivity and takes at least eight hours to charge.
“Being mentioned by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation gave us exposure and it helps when it comes to client and user acquisition. The article is a fantastic endorsement as the Gates Foundation does a lot of really amazing things the world over. It is a privilege for our work to be recognized and acknowledged by them,” said Volwana.

Sibanda said that working towards a smart, safer and green city through technology needed to be sped up in Nelson Mandela Bay.

He recommends that green energy practices be observed as well as the adoption of free communications protocols.

“All smart cities, traditionally, begin with internet ubiquity. This is reliant on the availability of traditional telco infrastructure or open wi-fi initiatives. The wide adoption of the freely available Tuse application would cover a region at almost no cost and ensure safe, decentralised and free communication. Running on our solar powered tablet PCs, we can have a green and smart city through technology which is starting to happen in Port Elizabeth where we have built the required solutions. But there is a long way to go.”

Apart from developing the Vuya Tablet and the Tuse app, they have also developed solutions for various clients from Port Elizabeth, Johannesburg, Cape Town, Ghana, Nigeria and the United Kingdom.

Millbug’s goal is, according to Sibanda, to “always bring happiness to people who need it the most.  Altruistic as it sounds, this implies solutions ubiquity in our chosen field”.
His advice for upcoming businesses is to treat employees with respect and dignity which is the quickest way to succeed.

“They pay it forward to your clients. It’s easy to persevere when everyone has the same goal and vision that you all work together on consistently.”

Sibanda added that there has never been a better time to be a technology entrepreneur. “Focussing solely on making money is the quickest way to fail.”

Sipelo Lupondwana, SNII centre manager, congratulated the Millbug team for being selected to visit Silicon Valley.

“Millbug’s Vuya tablet was successfully commercialised through incubator support last year. The device received various international media attention. Our Enterprise Development team all played a crucial role in successfully commercialising Millbug Vuya,” said Lupondwana.

He added that SNII will continue to be the place where Port Elizabeth’s technology entrepreneurs, young ICT businesses, and inventors with ideas come to in order to be developed into successful enterprises.

“We offer world-class office facilities and spaces, IT infrastructure and connectivity to reduce the cost of doing business. We also have good business coaches, mentors and business support services in place.”

During the 2014/15 financial year SNII 10 new ICT and technology start-ups were established from 11 projects. In terms of job creation from SNII clients, 46 direct jobs, 102 indirect jobs and 25 casual jobs were created for Nelson Mandela Bay’s regional economy during the 2014/15FY.

The combined turnover of SMMEs and incubator beneficiaries added R5,1 million to the regional economy of Port Elizabeth.

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Meet the ambassador to the future

Tilly Lockey, 14, lost her hands as a toddler, but sees it as a massive opportunity to embrace technology. She chatted with ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK about the human of tomorrow.

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Picture by Arthur Goldstuck

It is a description that defines 14-year-old Tilly Lockey: She lost her hands at the age of 15 months, and now uses bionic hands to show the world how to overcome disability.

That could easily read as an advertisement for a prosthetics company, but Tilly refuses to be defined by marketing messages. She has not only embraced what is supposed to be a disability, but wants to become nothing less than an ambassador to the future.

Picture by Arthur Goldstuck

That is in effect what she is achieving by pushing the boundaries of what is possible with artificial hands. It means that, eventually, she will have more capabilities built into her body than most able-bodied humans can imagine. She collaborates closely with Open Bionics, a start-up that is using 3D printing to create low-cost prosthetics with high-tech capabilities.

“I have very high hopes for the future,” she said during a chat on the sidelines of the SingularityU Summit at Kyalami north of Johannesburg. From Newcastle-on-Tyne in the United Kingdom, she was at the Summit as a guest speaker, chaperoned by her father Adam and sister Tia. 

“When I started working with Open Bionics, I wanted it to include lighting, music, Bluetooth, a projector in my palm, all over-optimistic things. But then I feel that is not too far away, and then a disability would turn into and enhancement of normal human hands. I’m really excited about it.

“I know there’s a couple of things they are working on right now, like trying to get the built-in battery thinner, because it’s hard to get overcoats and jackets over it, so they are trying to get the hands slimmer. They’re working on haptic feedback, to give a sense of touch of vibration, which tells me of I have a good grip on something. It could be coming soon. These hands I’m using now were made in the past five years. In another five years, I think we’ll have all of it.”

The hands in question are called Hero Arms, which its creators, Open Bionics, say is “the world’s first clinically approved 3D-printed bionic arm, with multi-grip functionality and empowering aesthetics”.

Click here to read more about the development of Open Bionics’s Hero Arms.

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How Tilly Lockey became a Hero

Part 2 of ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK’s interview with Tilly Lockey explores her amazing career.

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Picture courtesy SingularityU South Africa 2019 Summit

This is the second part of this series of articles. To start from the beginning, click here.

Tilly Lockey was diagnosed with Meningococcal Septicaemia Strain B when she was 15 months old.

Her mother spotted the tell-tale signs one day in 2007: a fast-spreading skin rash that looks like pinpricks, along with symptoms like lethargy and bruising. She was rushed to hospital, but the bacterial poisoning spread so aggressively, doctors gave Tilley no chance of survival. They had to make a quick decision to amputate her hands to save her life.

Twelve years later, her future truly came into focus: “I was surprised with really cool Alita: Battle Angel bionic Hero Arms and went on the blue carpet at the world premiere of the movie with Rosa Salazar and director James Cameron.”

That pivotal moment in her life would not have been possible without the intensive efforts of her mother, Sara, to raise funds to buy something better than the metal prosthetics issued by the National Health Service in the UK. She increased Tilley’s profile with a campaign to “Give Tilley a Hand”, and today works as a fundraiser and events organiser for the Meningitis Now support group. Her involvement in an event meant she was unable to join Tilley on her trip to South Africa last week, when she spoke at the SingularityU Summit. After coming off stage, Tilley told us that Sara was her biggest inspiration in her life, and the closest to a role model.

“I’m usually a speaker at her events. I tell everyone my story and what I’m doing now and give these kids inspiration, because they often feel they can’t do anything because of what Meningitis did to them.

“I am home schooled now, which is pretty cool, because I’m able to have a career and get educated at the same time. I feel I can do a lot of things that friends can’t do. I can take a whole class on an aeroplane. I have a great time traveling and meeting so many inspiring people who are making a difference in the world.”

The form of Mengingitis that attacked her leaves hidden scars and issues that only become apparent years later. She is almost absurdly cheerful about the challenges that have faced her.

“I personally figured out that my left leg had stopped growing. I’m still finding out things it has caused, but you survive. At least I’m here and I’m alive.”

It does help that she’s comfortable in the spotlight, happy to give interviews, and eager to show what she can do with her bionic hands.

“I want to go into public speaking a lot more, and it could be an option as career. I want it to continue because it’s a lot of fun, and I feel I’ve got a story to share. If I can inspire people to change the world, I will. “

Her travels this year will still take her to Barcelona, Jakarta and New York. In the Big Apple, she will accept a humanitarian award, and intends “to give a funky speech”.

In Jakarta, Indonesia, she will take part in a fashion catwalk and do a makeup tutorial live. She learned to do makeup with one of her bionic hands when she fractured her right elbow in a fall at school

“I got makeup for Christmas and wanted to play with it, and got the idea of doing it with an open hand. It took a lot of perseverance and patience, but after studying how to do it, I was able to recreate a full makeup routine using one hand. It wasn’t a great situation at the time, but now I’m happy it happened because it got me into doing what I do now.”

What she is doing with makeup is remarkable in its own right. She gives tutorials on YouTube, where she says she is “kinda new”, as she has “only around 16,000 followers”. That may well soon expand into cooking videos.

In other words, everything is an opportunity: “I could be sad, just sit on my bed and cry, or I can live my life and realise what I’ve got: these amazing bionic Hero Arms.

“All I want to do is help give people confidence in themselves, accept who they are, accept their scars and everything about them. That they don’t have to impress everybody and just be themselves.”

Read more in the third article of the series about how family remains at the centre of Tilly’s life.

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