Entrepreneur Neil du Preez vows that despite winning a prestigious global tech award, he is determined to keep his Mellowcab production on home soil.
Du Preez, who originally worked in the agricultural chemistry sector, is the owner of Mellowcabs, which features on Forbes’ recent list of seven most innovating ideas from Africa.
He also recently won the regional Smart Cities category of the 1776 Challenge Cup, which assists budding entrepreneurs whose focus is on improving city life.
The Mellowcab is an electric microcab that is best suited to short distances of about 3 km. The product of two years of research and hard work, it produces no carbon omissions and is manufactured mainly from recycled materials.
Du Preez has always been interested in public transport. Two years ago he decided to begin serious development and design work on the project.
The Mellowcab is relevant in public areas because it provides a safe, quick, flexible and fully electric transport system. It also includes regenerative braking, illuminated body panels, hydrogen fuel cells and on-board tablet computers.
Making the Forbes list has presented an opportunity for Du Preez to travel to Washington in May to showcase the Mellowcab.
However, one aspect of his innovation that is vital to Du Preez is to keep the manufacturing of the Mellowcab on home soil.
“Yes, going to the U.S. creates enormous growth opportunities, and I would like to expand into other foreign countries, but manufacturing will definitely stay on home soil,” says Du Preez.
Staff numbers will also grow exponentially from this month, and the manufacturing team will increase to between 20 and 25 employees, according to Du Preez.
He excitedly describes the designs of the new, improved version of the Mellowcab, which launches in April.
“There will be a complete redesign of the taxi itself. The look will be much cooler and more rock ’n roll. Illuminated body panels will be included in the design, to light up the Mellowcab at night,” says Du Preez.
Each cab will have at least two drivers. Drivers complete a full Mellowcab safety driving training course.
As part of his employment strategy, Du Preez has also approached unemployed tour guides.
“Not only are they tour guides, but we also train them up for other aspects of the Mellowcab business. We check credentials, and the drivers will need to have a motorcycle licence,” he says.
Du Preez also believes in creating a happy environment for employees, because this creates a happy business.
“We have a daily leasing system where the cab drivers pay us R150 for the day and then keep the fares. Mellowcabs also have a tip box, card and smart app facilities. It is important to provide great incentives for staff in order for them to deliver great work,” he says.
As with most entrepreneurs, his success has not been without challenges.
Du Preez tells Small Business Connect that he initially underestimated the legal and lengthy aspects of the process it took to design a vehicle.
“To design a vehicle is a really lengthy process. The engineering and design aspects are extensive. The roadworthy process is also strict. Eventually, we got the South African Bureau of Standards’ approval for the Mellowcab,” says Du Preez.
He was also forced to start the Mellowcab manufacturing procedure with his own capital, with venture capital and private leasing only becoming possible later. But these challenges all seem behind him now as he gets ready to jet off to the U.S.
- Go to www.mellowcabs.com for more information.