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Young Turks Craft innovative solutions for change.


Thabo Malebadi, Charles Leaver, Neo Motlhabane and Zibusiso Mkhwanazi have the savvy without the grey hairs.

The notion of grey, balding CEOs running the IT industry is being turned on its head. With the industry throwing open its doors to tech-savvy youngsters, Brainstorm met a few of the under-25-year-olds already making their mark in the industry.

IT for the masses

22-year-old Thabo Malebadi started Sandton-based e-Mbizo solutions in 2001 after identifying the need for more cost-effective IT-based solutions, especially in the rural and underserved, previously disadvantaged communities.

Getting started without funding was a challenge, but the company soon got involved in small call centre and training projects, says e-Mbizo CEO Malebadi.

“I chose IT as a business venture, because it provided me with the opportunity to be inventive, and I love innovation.”

Over the past three years, e-Mbizo has shifted focus and is involved in the research and development of telecommunications technologies. “We have had a breakthrough in establishing e-Silvercord, a VOIP solution and e-PBX, a virtual hosted PBX solution,” says Malebadi.

Hailing from the North West Province, Malebadi studied IT at Tshwane University, and extended his studies by completing a business management and CRM (customer relationship management) course through Unisa.

“As a young businessman I have come across various people who seemed to think I could not deliver, which has made our operations challenging. But despite this I have always delivered above expectations and ahead of schedules,” says Malebadi.

Music is the e-connection

Paul Baumgartner`s love of music led to the development of his online music store, Intelligent Music Distributors (IMD), which specialises in importing German music products and music by independent South African musicians living overseas.

Touring Germany with his band in 2003, 24-year-old Baumgartner met several music representatives and took the opportunity to start IMD.

Baumgartner, born and raised in Pretoria, did a BSc in Information Technology at the University of Pretoria. He graduated in 2004, when he started doing contract graphics work for Naledi3D factory.

But despite his interest in the online music business he says his loyalty still lies with Naledi3D. “They have carved me into the entrepreneur I am, and their socially conscious outlook on business inspires me greatly.”

Baumgartner says his greatest aspiration is to build an SA-based, ICT media empire that could rival the larger networks in the world, and in the process bridge the cultural and digital divide through the common medium of music.

An IT training passion

Another “Pretorian”, 23-year-old Delize Aucamp, is the content manager for online training solutions at Intoweb, which is based at the Innovation Hub.

Aucamp had to start working straight after matric. She later joined Intoweb and sees her tenure there as her biggest achievement to date: “I have learnt so much from the employees, directors and I see this type of working environment as ideal.”

Her daily Intoweb routine includes managing the content of Intoweb`s online training solutions and that of the umFundi examination system. Over the past two years she has been creating help-desk systems for large corporate companies, which aid in training. Aucamp is also realising her passion for teaching IT as she gives classes on various IT-related subjects at the Innovation Hub.

And although she was initially not aware that ASP and PHP were languages, “I have learnt how to solve bugs while working on the systems at Intoweb,” says Aucamp.

An open affair

Within five years, open source expert Charles Leaver, 24, has moved up from junior technician to head the retail and online divisions at Obsidian systems, a local Linux and open source company.

Zimbabwean Leaver has spent most of his life in South Africa. The 24-year-old has been involved with Obsidian for the past eight years, beginning work there after completing matric in 1999.

His real passion for computers comes to the fore outside of the office as he spends vast amounts of time playing with the different operating systems, especially the different flavours that Linux has to offer, and some Unix, he says.

But Leaver doesn`t see himself as the 24-hour “geek” as he enjoys spending time on his other hobbies, including wakeboarding (a cross between water-skiing and surfing).

However, as the Linux world continually evolves, Leaver says he is focused on keeping ahead of the technological innovations in the industry while making every effort to educate people about Linux and open source.

The highlight of Leaver`s IT career involves none other than the pioneer of open source in South Africa, Mark Shuttleworth.

“Shuttleworth wanted to ask some questions about a specific Linux software package he had found, so he phoned me to get the answers,” says Leaver.

Csonke duet

The combined ages of the founders of e-business solutions company Csonke do not total 50 years, and when they founded the company, the current CEO had not yet completed matric.

Zibusiso Mkhwanazi, CEO, co-founded the company in Braamfontein at the tender age of 17 with current executive director Neo Mothlabane, who was 19 at the time. They are now 22 and 24 respectively.

A year after Csonke was founded, the pair got their first blue-chip client – JSE-listed stock brokers Barnard Jacobs Mellet – which was then known as Mazwai securities.

And it didn`t take long for other companies to follow suit, among them auditing and consulting firm Deloitte and Touche. “Our business model was designed to enable us to provide end-to-end solutions through value adding partners,” says Mothlabane.

For each project, Csonke assesses the client`s needs and assembles multi-disciplinary teams to fulfil the requirements, he says.

A few years after creating Csonke, Mkhwanazi and Mothlabane embarked on an investment diversification strategy with the formation of Csonke Holdings. This investment management company has specific interest in the telecoms, business consulting and infrastructure services, as well as the marketing and communications industries.

The young company came across its first investment company with Moloko Technology Groups, but it was only a short while before Csonke Holdings in turn acquired a share in its investor company. This was the move that gained Csonke a major foothold in the telecoms and training sectors.

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