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Funding coup for castor oil project

A young entrepreneur’s curiosity leads him to establish a business manufacturing biofuels.

TUMISANG NDLOVU: In this week’s SME Corner on Moneyweb we speak to Thabang Mabapa, who scooped R100 000 funding for his project Selokong Sa Dimelana, a project that involves growing castor seed crops with the engagement of small-scale local farmers for the commercial product of castor seed oil as an alternative biofuel. An interesting project, tell us all about it.

THABANG MABAPA:  At Selokong Sa Dimelana we farm castor seeds and then process them into castor oil, and then convert them into biodiesel. Our business is primarily in the agricultural sector, yet plays a role in a number of industries, including energy.

TUMISANG NDLOVU: Wow, how did you get into this?

THABANG MABAPA:  It all started when I went to volunteer to clean the community church, and a friend of mine gave me tree spikes to throw away. I didn’t throw them away. I don’t know why. I put them in my bag and when I got home I crushed the seeds and I found these brown attractive seeds inside. Out of curiosity I did research and I found out that they were castor seeds and that they could produce oil.

TUMISANG NDLOVU: Now, prior to knowing this – or even after – what kind of preparations did you have to do for yourselves to make this into a successful and viable type of business?

THABANG MABAPA:  We obviously had to position ourselves with organisations or institutions that could help us extract the oil, that could help us market our business and that could also help us distribute the oil to our buyers.

TUMISANG NDLOVU: Interesting, partnerships – talk to us about that. How does that help you to grow the business?

THABANG MABAPA:  It really has helped us grow in a sense that people view us as a credible organisation, because partnering with Wits, partnering with Isivuno, partnering with RSB – those are companies that are helping us to grow and helping us to get access to the market.

TUMISANG NDLOVU: How has the market received you, then?

THABANG MABAPA:  When it comes to castor oil, people use it for their hair, so we normally produce it for cosmetic purposes. And our biodiesel — we sell it to farmers so that they can use it on their tractors.

TUMISANG NDLOVU: Tell us about this journey,for yourself. As a personal journey what has it meant for you?

THABANG MABAPA:  Firstly, I never imagined that I would be in this business, because it all started out of curiosity. And, having started it, I have grown to know more about business and it also has helped me when it comes to building and establishing relationships – be it with our team members or even with organisations that we work with.

TUMISANG NDLOVU: Marketing-wise, how do people get to know about the product? How do you find marketing as a small business in South Africa? Is the climate conducive?

THABANG MABAPA:  For our organisation it’s really hard to market it because people know castor oil for different reasons. So when you tell them that you actually produce biodiesel from castor oil, you obviously have to explain how you do it. So it’s a bit hard for people to accept it. But I must say that with producing especially cold-pressed castor oil our buyers have really been satisfied with the quality of the oil. I think we only need to improve in terms of being out there and getting people to know more about us.

TUMISANG NDLOVU: Tell us, then, about this funding – how has that helped you in your business?

THABANG MABAPA:  The money is going to help us to expand, especially when it comes to developing more land for castor seed farming. We’re targeting 150 hectares by the end of the year and that will help us to buy small sets of machinery.

TUMISANG NDLOVU: In your view is the SME sector in South Africa improving and conducive to propel small businesses for success?

THABANG MABAPA:  It really has improved a lot, I’ve come across a lot of entrepreneurs who are doing great work and who actually inspire me. However, I think we need more support – be it mentorship, funding or even creating access to the market.

TUMISANG NDLOVU: What then can we expect from you in future?

THABANG MABAPA:  We’re going to develop new products that I can’t mention right now, and we’ll be working with more villages. We’re currently based in Muila Village, and when we start scaling we are going to move to other villages.

TUMISANG NDLOVU: Interesting, thank you so much, we wish you all the best.

THABANG MABAPA: Thank you very much.

TUMISANG NDLOVU: That was Thabang Mabapa of the Selokong Sa Dimelana project in this week’s SME Corner on Moneyweb.

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