They may as well be the first to produce pencils, especially pencils from waste paper in Lesotho. Tefo Koloko and Libuseng Visser, the two passionate National University of Lesotho (NUL) graduates have created a company called Pasa Productions to commercialise waste paper pencils.
They are already producing and selling black graphite HP pencils and colour pencils. Catch them here: +266 62368776/ +266 58368776, email@example.com, https://www.facebook.com/PasaProductions, to place your order.
And their company has a simple slogan— “Put it on Paper.”
They have set up their mini-factory at BEDCO, Room 49, Sebaboleng (Lakeside), Maseru.
“When we were students at NUL,” they said, “We got caught up! We found ourselves in an eye of a storm of innovation that enveloped the whole university. So we asked ourselves, how could we stand out and be counted?”
You, dear reader, are probably already salivating to get the whole story but—wait a minute. Let’s start here.
What is this pencil thing to start with?
[Apply here for the NULISTICE 2020 Expo, Hackathon and Gala Dinner: https://www.nulistice.org.ls/events]
Every one of us has some relationship with pencils. We used them exclusively in our primary school, maybe until standard 4. We used them throughout our school years for drawing. Those who chose to be artists have fallen in love with the power of pencils. Even in the digital era, pencils are still with us.
Pencils are timeless!
But here is the problem. Who makes these pencils? We probably don’t know—do we?
That is because for far too long, we have stood on the side-lines and watched when others learned to make things for themselves—and for us.
However, lo and behold! With the current crop of innovators like Koloko and Visser, we are basically turning that thinking up-side-down.
Caught in the NUL innovation storm, the twosome decided it was time for a paradigm shift to view waste, not as a trash, but as a resource.
They consulted their own thinking faculties until a brilliant idea got brewing in their minds. “I come from the Department of Environmental Health in the Faculty of Health Sciences,” Koloko said. “It is, perhaps, this background which encouraged me to explore the idea of making things out of waste.”
So he shared his vision with his partner, Libuseng Visser and together they explored opportunities.
“The idea of pencils came to mind,” Visser said.
So they started exploring the idea deeper. “We had to use all the skills we had as scientists to research as much as possible about pencils,” they said. “By the time we were done, guess what, a year had passed!”
But they were armed with tonnes of information. They had found that the pencil making businesses was dominated by giant business behemoths who used extremely capital intensive and highly automated technology.
You read about such companies and you feel small, well, very small. But, of course, David vs Goliath moments still happen.
“We realised two major problems which we wanted to turn into opportunities,” the pair said. “First, we had no money [did you know? Having no money can be good sometimes], and we had no forests in Lesotho [from which to mine wood for making pencils].”
However, since they were becoming a major part of the unfolding, unstoppable NUL innovation fever, they were learning to think, not outside of the box, but away from the box. They realised they had two things. They had the brains. And they had waste paper—tonnes of it.
They focused on using the very basic, low-cost technology that would, nevertheless, produce pencils of international standards.
As they developed the concepts, they would not wait for a good Samaritan to provide them with start-up capital. They took their seed capital from NMDS stipend and entered and dominated pitch competitions.
For instance, they joined a NULISTICE 2018 competition under NULYEFA [NUL Youth Economic Freedom Association] and supported financially by Lesotho Post bank. They had two businesses to pitch. One was on the development of biogas and this got the first prize. The other was on the development of pencils and it got the third prize in the same contest.
They entered another competition, again by NULYEFA, but supported financially by BEDCO. The pencil idea got the first price there! The money was not much but it assisted them to consolidate their concept.
Then they entered yet another competition. This one was called Bacha Entrepreneurship Project 2018 phase II. It was a joint effort by Standard Lesotho Bank, Basotho Enterprises Development Corporation (BEDCO) and Lesotho Revenue Authority (LRA).
They won the competition and, as they put it, “we got a significant amount of money, enough to get resources for production.” Then, as they say, the rest is history.
What can we say to BEDCO, Standard Lesotho Bank, LRA and Post Bank?
You have shown what can happen the day Lesotho begins to take innovation and entrepreneurship seriously, not by talking about them but by FUNDING them.