1. How long has LWI been in business?
LWI has been in business for the past 17 years.
2. Can you explain your unique water purification process to us?
Wastewater (Sewer) plants are conventionally built with reinforced concrete. This means an average plant will take up to 3 years to build. We came up with an innovative way of building these plants with “Zincrolyte” (steel Tanks) in 2005. While this construction platform is much cheaper than concrete, it is also more robust, more flexible and more sustainable. Providing a 20 year warranty as opposed to the 1 year warranty concrete offers.
3. Is the process sustainable?
Our solution meets all 3 legs of sustainability i.e. It is economically, financially and socially sustainable.
4. What has your entrepreneurial journey been like?
The journey has been long, arduous, emotionally and financially draining but very fulfilling and satisfying. Having managed to break into an industry that we were never predisposed to belong to. We have changed the way the game is played and are excited to see a long term vision come to fruition.
5. What are some of the challenges you have faced?
The biggest challenge has been staying afloat after we ploughed all our savings and cash flows into the demo plant in Phalaborwa 10 years ago. The SLA and Operation and Maintenance (O&M) contract with the municipality did not go as expected, with the municipality failing to pay the fees for over 3 years! We were unable to sustain some of the HR we had invested so much in (training abroad, etc.) and had to realise our vision with a skeletal staff compliment.
6. What has been the biggest reward for you since starting TWI?
When we started out, we knew, with success, we were going to do to this industry what the internet did to the postman! It was a far-fetched dream at that point and so many stars needed to align to make the dream a reality. To see this dream come true is unbelievably rewarding.
7. What is the funniest thing you have endured since starting your entrepreneurial venture?
Right at the beginning, in 2005 I was part of a DTI trade mission to Europe. It was to be my first time on an aeroplane so you can imagine my excitement. Unfortunately, I found out during boarding time (11 pm) that I had no transit visa and was booted off in front of my delegation. Embarrassed, I made my way out but as I was walking out I noticed there was a KLM flight headed directly to Amsterdam (our final destination) which was about to board. I begged them to issue me a ticket, which they did, and used all my subsistence money for the ticket. Suffice it to say, it was on this mission that I met my partners and raised the funds for the ground-breaking demo plant. A relationship that survived all these years.
8. How do you give back to the communities in which you operate?
We train local people on the importance of basic sanitation, water re-usage and harnessing. We also support the local schools with greening projects, donate trees annually and offer tanks for harnessing of rainwater. We have also recently offered a local school a subsidised wastewater plant for harnessing the wastewater and greening their sports field. We intend to expand these programmes in future.
9. Where do you see TWI in the next five years?
We see ourselves being the market leader in pre-fab and onsite wastewater treatment. We would like to be the champions in wastewater reuse at all levels, from the common household, to industrial and municipal wastewater.
10. Do you have any advice for anyone wanting to penetrate your market?
Yes, this industry is no quick fix. It’s an industry where the wheels turn very slowly and the long term strategic goals must be very well thought out. You will also need a steady “cash flow” to keep the wheel turning in the interim.