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The Stuart Ntlathi story: A hope-filled prophecy for entrepreneurs in Africa

High profile speakers, animated presentations, and the occasional F-bomb on stage all characterised the proceedings at what is fast-becoming one of South Africa’s hottest tech conferences.

Net Prophet, a free one-day conference established by the RAMP Foundation last year as a means of social investment to debate and grow the local Internet economy, attracted about 800 people from all walks of life.

This year’s line-up included Erik Hersman (Ushahidi), Vinny Lingham (Yola), Adriaan Pienaar (WooThemes), Stefan Magdalinski (Mocality), Richard Mulholland (Missing Link), Patrick Kayton (Cognician), Sarah Lacy (TechCrunch), Stephen Newton (ex-Google SA), Stephan Ekbergh (TravelStart), Stuart Ntlathi (SNSET), and Arthur Goldstuck (World Wide Worx).

The real story at Net Prophet, however, came in the form of Stuart Ntlathi, one of South Africa’s most important young entrepreneurs, who ironically you’ve probably never heard of.

In 2000, when Ntlathi was only 13-years old, he started a science club with a group of friends in order to share their passion for science and technology and spread this enthusiasm amongst their peers.

Ten years later, the North West Province-based Stuart Ntlathi Science, Engineering & Technology Institute (SNSET) has won local and international awards and offers various training programmes and a support structure for more than 21 000 registered learners across South Africa as well as Taiwan and the US.

In a country where only 20% of matric pupils passed Maths with a grade of 50% or higher in 2009 according to research firm Eighty20, Ntlathi is clearly making a much-needed contribution to the South African tech industry.

Whether he realises it or not, a huge responsibility rests on Ntlathi’s shoulders as he is ultimately grooming South Africa’s next generation of biotech entrepreneurs — a reality that would break most 23-year olds, except he appears to revel in it.

Ntlathi is on a mission to “give young [mostly underprivileged] people the platform to be part of the developing world”. The term that he’s coined for his personal mission statement is “The Infinity Dream”, which basically means to always strive for what appears to be unattainable.

SNSET is currently involved in several innovative projects. One of them gives pupils 14 hours to conceptualise and build a prototype for a new invention made solely out of recyclable materials. Many of these inventions have been turned into working products and some have even been patented. Examples include a “portable shoe polisher”, “auto cooling umbrella”, and a “14-in-1 microwave oven”.

It appears that the Net Prophet crowd weren’t the only ones impressed and inspired by the work that SNSET is doing as they’ve also caught the attention of CNN and Reuters, who are sending production crews to South Africa to do a documentary later this year.

If the SNSET story is anything to go by, then tech entrepreneurship has a bright and diverse future in South Africa.

To find out more about what was said at Net Prophet 2010, go to the Twitter #NetProphet hashtag.

Author Bio

Colin Daniels
Colin is currently Head of Digital at the Trader Media Group (South Africa), part of Europe’s largest specialist multimedia publishing group jointly-owned by the Guardian Media Group and Apax Partners. He is responsible for managing a commercial department, which includes both sales and technical staff, who work on TMG’s... More