Soft approach to germ warfare

Khanyi Nkosi

After speaking to Phindile Mahlangu, 36, and Matshediso Ntsala, 30, founders and owners of Pemra Business Enterprise, a Durban company that manufactures and supplies disposable toilet seat covers, it's difficult not to be intimidated by their achievements.

The two women, both honours graduates from the University of KwaZulu-Natal and the University of Pretoria respectively, are the first black females to develop such a product.

They were at university when they came up with the idea to find a device that could help control infections in public toilets.

They put their plan into action and started manufacturing the product with the help of their five staff members.

Their initiative was recognised recently when they received a boost from South African Breweries' Kickstart programme, which provides training and money to small businesses.

While the company is still in its infancy and not yet profitable, it has made great strides in getting the product to the market.

Individuals, hospitals and big supermarkets such as Spar have come on board as clients.

The two women say that part two of their dream is to grow the company and contribute to a decline in the number of women being infected in public toilets.

Q: Why did you choose this type of business?

A: Not a lot has been done to curb the spread of infections from public toilets. We wanted to bring some advancement with hygiene products. Topad, the name of the product, is practical and can be carried anywhere, limiting infections when using public toilets.

Q: What makes your company unique?

A: We stand to be corrected, but we believe ours is the only company offering such a product. Topad is environmentally friendly and flushable, making it easy to use anywhere.

Q: How did you finance it?

A: We used what savings we had and managed to get some help from family members and friends.

Q: What challenges did you encounter when you started and how did you overcome them?

A: The main challenge is that we are currently outsourcing some of the machines. We also battled to find affordable premises. And it's not easy getting our product to big supermarkets. Some of them are not taking us seriously but we are not giving up. Marketing was and still is difficult but we are working at it and won't stop until we get it right.

Q: Have you identified any business opportunities for your company during the 2010 World Cup?

A: We're thinking about a plan for 2010. We hope that we'll have a role to play.

Q: What opportunities are there for young entrepreneurs in this field?

A: We believe there are a lot of opportunities, especially because people can't afford to have their health exposed to any kind of infection. There is a great need to protect ourselves.

Q: How has it been working together as two young women?

A: It is not a problem. We click very well and we have much in common. We often agree on the way to approach challenges.

Q: What qualities does one need to succeed in this kind of business?

A: You must have a passion for health-related issues. You should have a big heart and lots of courage. Don't expect returns overnight.

Have enough capital to run the business for when things are not going so well.

Q: What are your dreams for the company?

A: We would like to see every woman in South Africa using Topad because it can be carried everywhere - shopping malls, functions, nightclubs ... We would also like to see employers providing Topad in the workplace, because we believe it can reduce absenteeism and safeguard the health of employees.