Oct 31 Sandiswa Qayi: Making A Difference in Tech

Sandiswa Qayi didn’t set out to be a tech entrepreneur. Growing up in a small, rural town in South Africa’s Eastern Cape, her early dreams were of becoming a doctor or an engineer.

Passionate about science, it wasn’t until she couldn’t enrol in the physics class at her school – because it was full – that those aspirations faded, and Sandiswa settled on a social sciences degree instead.

It was after graduation, when she started a career as a project manager in economic development, that Sandiswa discovered a new passion for helping regional communities, particularly through skills development.

As a child, Sandiswa had moved around a lot. She was raised by her grandparents, aunts and uncles while her mom worked in a city textile factory.

In these early years, it was time spent with her grandfather, a mechanic, which was especially formative. Sandiswa credits him with helping her to develop her strong character. He encouraged her curiosity and persistence, traits which Sandiswa has had to draw on many times since embarking on her entrepreneurial journey.

“My grandfather always told me that I’m stubborn. I had this stubborn streak, and if I wanted to achieve something, I’d obsess to get it done. Now, if I set my mind to do something, I make sure I really work hard to achieve that.”

And work hard she has! Her innovative product is a device which can be fitted to any geyser {hot water boiler} to minimise the time and cost of heating water. It was launched in October 2018 following two and a half years under development, including rigorous testing and refining.

There’s no doubt it’s been a steep learning curve for someone with a social sciences background.

The idea for the HotSpot is largely down to Sandiswa’s curious and tenacious nature. She described how she used to switch her home geyser off and on in an effort to save on utility costs.

This makes sense in a country where hot water heating can account for more than 40% of the typical electricity bill.

With the geyser taking around two hours to heat up, Sandiswa was always having to plan ahead, as well as suffering the daily inconvenience of getting up hours earlier to switch it on in time for a morning shower.

Frustrated, she decided to research how she could improve the situation.

The development of the HotSpot follows a classic entrepreneurial narrative. It was born from a personal need, followed by the realisation that her situation was not unique. In fact, it turned out that Sandiswa’s hot water problem was also a problem for many others.

“I could not afford to keep my geyser on all day. I needed to find a solution, so I did the research to find out how it worked and how I could change things, for myself and my friends.”

The HotSpot is ingenious. It’s an eco-friendly sleeve that once retro-fitted allows the householder to operate their geyser much like a kettle, boiling only the amount of water needed at any one time. The HotSpot draws in cold water through the bottom of the geyser, while the heated water rises. Hot and cold water never mix, and you can heat 50 litres to 50 degrees within thirty minutes – essentially it’s hot water on demand.

With HotSpot, existing geysers become instantly more energy efficient. Customers don’t need to outlay significant amounts of money changing over to a new model in order to lower their electricity costs. The HotSpot can be retrofitted on both vertical and horizontal geysers because of the buyoancy of the sleeve. It complements any other existing solutions

All of this is important because as Sandiswa points out:

“When it comes to the energy efficiency space, the low to middle-income brackets are always rationalised. Coming up with a solution like this, I feel I’m not only representing myself but I’m also representing all of the other people that have been marginalised.”

While lowering electricity bills is something that Sandiswa is immensely proud of, her ambitions go further still. She and her business partners are now focused on creating a range of eco-friendly tech products, and the HotSpot is just the beginning

Looking to the future, Sandiswa’s intention is for her company, AET, to play a serious role in the energy efficiency space. As innovators and manufacturers, AET wants to form strategic partnerships in South Africa as well as in the international space. Right now they are talking with potential partners across Africa and in India. It’s an ambitious goal, but Sandiswa and her team have proven their ability to deliver, and they already have a track record of successful fundraising, making their business objectives very realistic, even in a competitive market.

Sandiswa is also committed to meaningful skills development, especially for young people.  South Africa has high unemployment rates, and she wants to create jobs that will allow people to be self-sustainable in the long run.

“Driving and changing the economy of small towns was always my passion, something that really resonated with my personality and my ambition.”

For Sandiswa, disrupting and changing the status quo matters. She wants to make a positive difference in other people’s lives as well as her own. She sees herself as an ambassador, not just for herself and her company, but for other women hoping to re-imagine their lives too.

Sandiswa has inspiring advice for women who dream of entrepreneurship in the technology or engineering space. I’ll let her have the final word:

“First and foremost is to never give up, and to believe in yourself. In male-dominated industries, this is especially important. Some may criticise you, try to undermine you or intimidate you, but if you truly believe in yourself then that gives you confidence to also believe in what you are doing, and once you’ve got those two then it means you are unstoppable.

Another thing that I have learned is that we need to be honest with ourselves, so embrace your fear, embrace your weaknesses and say, yes, ok, I may not know everything but I’m willing to learn. That’s something that has also helped me along the way. I trust that through my research and learning I will be able to understand.”

As women, we also need to remain feminine and not be scared or even embarrassed about that. We need to bring our emotions into the boardroom in a professional and emotionally intelligent way. We need to change the status quo and say, yes, I’m a woman, yes, I’m emotional, yes, I’m everything, but I’m here to make a change and I’m here to stay.

So that will be my advice, to say, really, let’s go out there, believe in ourselves, use every available resource and also be true and steadfast for other females so that they see role models in us.”


You can find out more about AET, the HotSpot or get in touch with Sandiswa Qayi at www.aetafrica.co.za

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