Johannesburg - It all started with a cold shower. While living with friends in Cape Town, emerging entrepreneur Harald Oswin had an idea he hopes might help solve South Africa’s energy crisis.
“I realised that they had a very inefficient routine,” he said of his flatmates. For most of the day they would leave their geyser off in order to save the money required to heat the water through the day. Oswin said this meant if he wanted a warm shower when he woke up at 6am, he would have to get up at 4am to turn the geyser on.
Today, Oswin is working on what he believes will be a solution to this cumbersome daily ritual: a small device that clips on to the geyser itself and, like a sleepy finger, flips the switch on and off at the appropriate time.
He calls the project “Geyserflicker.”
Oswin envisions his device as one that can be bought cheaply over the counter, and installed by consumers.
“The units will come pre-programmed in such a way that it doesn’t turn the geyser on during those problematic peak hours,” he says. “So we’re only taking a chunk of two hours in the morning, and two hours in the evening.”
Originally from Swaziland, Oswin, 23, attended the prestigious Waterford Khamhlaba College
and after matric was accepted into Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he spent five semesters before returning to South Africa in February to work full-time on bringing Geyserflicker to life.
The idea has advanced significantly from the concept which won him the McKinley Family Grant for Innovation and Entrepreneurial Leadership in Social Enterprise at Harvard in 2013.
“It was called the Springbok,” he said, explaining that his team named their first prototype after the spring that powered it.
The device was like a wind-up egg timer, where the consumer would wind it up the night before, and wake up to warm water in the morning.
“That was in the trashcan around August or so,” he said. It seems that no matter how promising an idea, there are always bugs to work out. According to Oswin, the mistakes and hurdles are what’s really taught him the most.
Oswin said that one of the biggest challenges he’s faced since getting back from Harvard is the manufacturing process. “You can have a product, and it can look very nice. But even if you have a good design, each little detail only comes to life when you take it to a manufacturer. And there are more little nuances to manufacturing that can impact whether your product is a success or not.
“Don’t underestimate how challenging it is,” he said. “Because you don’t know what you don’t know. A whole lot of guys would say ‘Yeah, in six months I’m going to have this, this and this running,’ and you know it’s good to be ambitious, but you really don’t know.”