This article forms part of the Youth Month 2015 series in which SME South Africa, throughout the month of June, will highlight the work of young entrepreneurs and innovators who are shaping SA’s future.

A call for young digital entrepreneurs in the Gauteng province earlier this year has seen 30-year-old digital innovator gain some much-needed attention for his invention.

Phathwa Senene, a Johannesburg resident, has made it into the top ten of the  #Hack Jozi Challenge.

The startup entrepreneur competition, which is a collaboration between JCSE and Seed Engine, is an effort by the city of Johannesburg to find tech savvy, innovative entrepreneurs who have ideas that could help address a community need, using the power of digital technology.

To enter, participants had to submit a two minute video together with a description outlining their idea (including budgets and timelines), as well as how they see it benefiting their community.

Community safety initiative

Phathwa Senene.

Senene has developed a prototype for the Scova Fire Reporting Device.

The device is meant to help informal settlements residents more easily report fires, all by pressing a centrally located button. The alert is then sent out to the nearest fire station.

The remote-controlled device also has a video feed feature that helps fire stations to assess the fire from the station, also informing them of the kind of fire-fighting tools that they will need.

Self-taught techie

Senene is a self-taught inventor. His highest academic qualification is a High School senior certificate.

Senene says he taught himself electronics, computer aided design (CAD), programming and 3D printing in order to develop his inventions.

Some of the inventions he has created include: a water saving device, a post box notification system and a police vehicle verification system.

Senene says the idea for the Scova Fire Reporting Device was inspired by other ideas that he was working on at the time, more specifically, a quadcopter that would video stream news events such as service delivery protests, shack fires, flooding incidents and traffic incidents.

The biggest challenge that he faced with that invention was that it would only allow flights for a short duration, which wouldn’t make it feasible in reporting events that that take place over a long period.

That shortcoming led him to instead place the video streaming functionality on top of a pole, with a  panic button feature.

Getting the idea off the ground

Scova Fire Reporting Device

Beyond the device that he has become well-known for, Senene is also running a printing company, Taito 3D. The company was registered in 2013 and assists other inventors with assembling electronics, designing enclosure and 3D printing prototypes.

It also supports other inventors who need help  developing prototypes but cannot afford the cost.

This endeavour has not been without it’s challenges, including the unavailability of 3D printing supplies.

Commercialising to success

Despite all his success, Senene is aware that he still has a while to go in commercialising his idea.

“I’ve been very poor developing appropriate strategies in taking these devices into the market, my attempts have been half-hearted as my attention is drawn towards being more creative than being business-minded”, says Senene.

This something he hopes to get help with as part of the challenge. Together with the cash prize (worth R5 million), winners of the challenge are awarded membership to the Jozi Digital Hub in Johannesburg, together with a cash prize.

They will also be offered support in the form of technical requirements and mentorship through an intensive one month programme where they will be access to various resources, mentors and advisors to turn their vision to a reality.

Bigger Targets

For now, Senene says the short-term goal is to create inventions that have a direct impact in improving people’s lives. His long-term goal, he says, is to study physics research, architecture, engineering, mathematics and literature.