Sean Moolman of PowerOptimal discusses business start-ups and entrepreneurship in South Africa
In light of June’s #ThemeOfTheMonth being entrepreneurship, we decided to chat to entrepreneur Sean Moolman. He won the Innovation Award at African Utility Week in 2016 and was one of the exhibitors at Energy Revolution Africa (one of MANGO-OMC’s clients), hosted for the first time this year as a co-located event at African Utility Week. Sean Moolman obtained his PhD in chemical engineering from the University of Pretoria and is the co-founder and CEO of PowerOptimal, and a non-executive director of Navworld (Pty) Ltd (an outdoor and adventure retail company) and Tour 2.0 Global Writers (Pty) Ltd, a community and cultural tourism platform.
Sean Moolman of PowerOptimal
- What inspired you to start PowerOptimal and what challenges did you face in the start-up process?
I worked at CSIR for 15 years, where I realised my passion for science & technology. Over the years, my interest and focus shifted more and more towards innovation, and ultimately to entrepreneurship. Like engineering and arts, it is a creative activity that, if done well, contributes tremendously to humanity and just like engineering and arts, it is no easy matter to excel in!
Our ability to harness energy is one of the cornerstones of human advancement and quality of life. I feel that making energy more accessible and sustainable in Africa is therefore one of the most worthwhile things one can be involved in so when the opportunity arose for me to get involved in commercialising an energy management technology invented by Johan Theron (now our technical director), I had to go for it.
In terms of challenges, there have been quite a few. Things like cash flow constraints, product-market fit issues and poor choice of business partners were a few of the challenges that we had to face. I feel that there is definitely no replacement for experience, and some lessons have to be learnt the hard way.
- Why did you decide to become involved with the companies Navworld and Tour 2.0?
I serve as a non-executive director on the board of Navworld, which is a leading outdoor and adventure retail company in South Africa. I became involved in the company to learn more about the retail business in South Africa, and to also make a meaningful contribution to the company with my background in technological innovation.
Tour 2.0 focuses on developing and showcasing authentic local community tours and packages on an online platform. The company has a passion for introducing a different side of Africa to the world, and it was something that I felt I had to get involved in (especially being able to work with such a talented management team).
- What is your view and opinion on the current state of our economy in South Africa and as a successful entrepreneur, why do you think entrepreneurship helps to build and strengthen economies?
Despite all the visible challenges that the South African economy is facing, there is still an amazing level of resilience, and I believe that the right leadership will be able to unlock the path to growth and improved quality of life.
I don’t see myself as a successful entrepreneur at all as we are still in the early stages of building our business. Longer-term sustainability is for me the key measure of business success.
The reason that entrepreneurship plays such a key role in healthy economies, is its creative contribution – it creates new economic activities, and delivers outsized value through that process to customers, the economy and employees (job creation).
- Do you feel that entrepreneurship is an important factor within the non-renewable resources sector, keeping in mind the problems our country faces daily regarding our non-renewable resources?
Even though my focus is very much on renewables, I still feel that human ingenuity and entrepreneurship is important and needed in all sectors of the economy. Where we do need to use non-renewables, we need to focus on managing them effectively and responsibly and with the least damage possible.
- Having experienced the highs and lows of starting your own business, what advice can you give others who are in the process of starting up their own businesses?
I would say the most important thing is to stick with it! Perseverance and determination are key. Find some mentors, and join a peer group – it can get lonely if you can’t share the ups and downs with others. Most of all, do not hesitate to do it as you will never regret it.
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