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Ntsako Mgiba – chief executive officer of JONGA – was visiting his aunt and cousin in the Witbank Township one night when thieves burgled her house and five others while they were sleeping. That’s when Mgiba decided it was time to do something about safety in townships and JONGA – the Xhosa word meaning “to watch” – was born.
Mgiba co-founded JONGA with Ntandoyenkosi Shezi and Matthew Tait through UCT Up-Starts during his second year at the University of Cape Town. At the time, he was studying mechatronics engineering on a SASOL bursary.
JONGA is a low-cost, low-tech security system that sends a notification to your smartphone when something triggers the motion sensors in your home. If you suspect foul play, you can hit the panic button, which alerts the neighbours and the local policing forum.
It takes a village
In 2017, JONGA won the first season of the Santam Safety Ideas drive, which earned them start-up capital of R200 000 and the opportunity to participate in the 10X Entrepreneurship Programme. Through Santam’s incubation process (valued at R150 000) JONGA learned to align their product to their emerging market, and this encouraged them to join the Sanlam Enterprise and Supplier Development (ESD) Programme.
“We are currently learning a lot about financial modelling, and building a robust business plan to help us raise the kind of money we need to commercialise our solution,” Mgiba says. “The programme is usually for companies further down the line than us so a lot of effort is going into tailoring it so that it can accommodate a start-up and we’re finding it all very helpful. It’s just been absolutely amazing the kind of support we’re receiving.”
The Sanlam ESD Programme is also helping JONGA to obtain accreditation of their product with various legal structures and helping them to secure business with business partners going forward.
Mgiba explains how JONGA has secured funding before its launch: “We had a really powerful story. Just with the story and concept alone we were able to bring in our first angel investor,” he says. A lecturer took interest in the idea, became their advisor and then decided to invest in JONGA – which opened the door to further investments. “We just closed our third angel investor about a month ago.”
No journey is without sacrifice
Mgiba gave up his bursary and turned down a job at Sasol to work on JONGA full time “It was not an easy decision at all; I’m so grateful for the opportunity they gave me of funding my studies. When I was doing my reflection towards the end of my final year, I realised that the opportunity I had before me was a really good one and I didn’t want to put it aside and one day look back and have regrets,” he says.
On the challenge of running a business while studying, he says: “There are just so many people like my aunt who are out there, women who stay by themselves with young children and they’re vulnerable. That’s what keeps me going – if I don’t work on a solution I can’t just expect that someone else will.”
The future beckons
Mgiba says they plan to deploy their first units in March 2019 in Litha Park in Khayelitsha. “We’ve yet to deploy units in the field but we’re doing customer development ahead of time and have begun building an agent network that will be doing distribution and support,” he says. “We have already created employment opportunities in the form of JONGA agents who are currently signing up homes onto a JONGA community WhatsApp group, so they’re helping us get a captive audience.”
Mgiba – a Mandela Rhodes Scholar studying towards a Masters in Information Technology (MIT) degree at UCT and one of 2018’s Mail & Guardian Top 200 young South Africans – says JONGA is his future. “We have an awesome opportunity to connect communities together. Our tagline is ‘introducing safety and security into townships’ and that’s really my passion. How can we start to restore dignity and integrity to our people and provide them with services that are not only extracting value but adding value?”