Bathabile Mpofu on tackling SA’s science education crises

Founder of Nkazimulo Applied Sciences, Bathabile Mpofu, manufactures ChemStart - a mini science kit with experiments that high school learners can do themselves

According to a study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the increasing population and growing economic resurgence in Africa is driving a demand for specialised skills in fields such as mining, manufacturing, engineering, retail, agriculture and medicine. There is, however, a growing skills shortage in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) and it is reaching a crises level.

Nkazimulo Applied Sciences launched its ChemStart kit in June 2016, with the aim of making chemistry and science fun and interesting rather than intimidating, and for a select few. “In short, we are saying that everyone can be a scientist, it doesn’t matter what your economic background is,” says Mpofu.

She adds that Africa needs to boost STEM education to empower future generations. “The curriculum is fantastic but its implementation is facing challenges because most schools do not have adequate infrastructure in place. Learners watch their teachers demonstrate but they usually don’t have an opportunity to be hands on.”

Creating ChemStart

ChemStart is a chemistry kit designed for high school learners, which gives them the opportunity to engage hands-on with science concepts. It has 52 experiments that can be conducted weekly over a period of a year. It also requires that household items be used, proving that science is not only for the classroom but beyond.

“We want science concepts to be linked to student’s daily lives to make it relatable to the learner,” says Mpofu. “Buying raw materials in bulk and manufacturing locally makes the kit affordable, thus enabling any child to become a scientist. Their success lies in their passion for education, pursuit of knowledge and encouragement of others to do the same.”

Apart from people who have bought ChemStart for private use, over 2000 learners have been exposed to the chemistry kit thus far. But getting the product to market wasn’t without its challenges.

Mpofu struggled to procure materials from suppliers at the right price. “Communication and coordination with schools was also a challenge. Since we work with schools, it requires meticulous coordination because there are several stakeholders involved. Understanding the culture of the school you are dealing with is important. Sometimes when people are faced with a challenge, they are unwilling to see the value in the solution you are offering, so we have to go the extra mile,” says Mpofu.

Bathabile Mpofu’s tip for success:

  • Nkazimulo Applied Sciences recently beat over 24 000 applicants to win the 2016 Total Startupper of the Year award as an Impact Business by LifeCo UnLtd. Now Mpofu is working on developing kits for other science subjects.
  • Ensure that your idea is not only great, but that it also provides a solution to a real problem and that people will be willing to pay money for it.
  • It’s best to align your idea/solution with your passion. Entrepreneurship is not easy, so you need passion to keep you motivated through your journey.
  • If you have an idea, write a business plan, network and stay abreast with industry trends. Opportunities and good fortune come to those who are prepared!