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Mphahlele's energy business receives R20m cash injection

Businesswoman's company produces batteries to counter load-shedding

Karabo Ledwaba Journalist
Tumi Mphahlele with some of the batteries she manufactures.
Tumi Mphahlele with some of the batteries she manufactures.
Image: Supplied.

Tumi Mphahlele is one of a handful of women entrepreneurs who are making the mark in the energy industry with innovative solutions to beat rolling blackouts brought by insufficient power generation to meet growing demands.

Mphahlele, 47, is the co-founder of I-G3N — light manufacturing energy company involved in the production of lithium iron phosphate batteries that can be powered by solar PV or by grid energy.

The batteries can be used by small and large businesses as backup power during load-shedding to ensure operations are not brought to a halt.

Last week Mphahlele's company received a shot in the arm with R20m investment from Edge Growth and the ASISA ESD initiative that will allow it to grow further. 

“I started the business with two other co-founders in 2018 — Sydney Phakathi and Jaques Buys and we literally started from scratch. I still recall the day we were given a set of keys to our unit at the Riversands Incubation Hub — there was no desk, no phone, no internet and no employees. We only had a big audacious goal to start a lithium iron battery assembly plant in Johannesburg,” she said.

She said they found that the load-shedding crisis made their batteries solve many problems for businesses.

“The batteries are also used as backup power in many instances without solar PV, for example, and so irrespective of when grid power is lost, the batteries take over. I think the negative impact of load-shedding on small and large businesses is well documented and so our batteries contribute directly towards maintaining productivity and in improving the chances that businesses that rely on energy security to survive,” she said.

Investment Principal at Edge Growth Shrivar Mohan said I-G3N was chosen because of the expansive growth seen in the energy sector.

“We’ve observed explosive growth in the energy storage market globally and, more importantly, locally due to national grid instability and rising electricity costs. With further governmental and regulatory support for decentralised energy generation, we expect this trend to continue in SA and across the continent,” said Mohan.

Mphahlele from Ga-Rankuwa, northern of Pretoria, has a BSc chemistry degree from the University of Cape Town, a postgraduate degree in marketing and a MBA from GIBS.

She has had to prove herself, but managed to find good business partners who respect her capabilities.

“The challenge as a black woman is that your credibility is never assumed, so while others proceed with the business of doing business, you have to work towards getting others unstuck in the old paradigms. But I think getting into good partnerships with people that also respect your work can help overcome this,” she said.

Mphahlele said though they have previously battled with getting funding, the recent investment into her company and over the past few months is her highlight since their launch.

“The highlights in the business were two — the conclusion of the first round of funding from Secha Capital in 2020 and recently, further funding from Edgegrowth — ASISA. This type of funding is more patient and is suited to a business such as ours that is preparing for rapid grow. The investment allows us to meet the demand of a growing market and to develop the capacity and the capabilities to build bigger batteries — moving into more industrial and commercial energy storage applications,” she said.

They will also be able to manufacture key components needed to make the batteries that are not currently found in SA and continue to sell products to more African countries. 

Yusuf Shaikh the principal at Secha Capital, which has helped the company to formalise operations over the past six months, said the new investment will help with job creation and financial growth. 

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