Thulile Zikhali, Zanele Khwela and Tiffany Ogbonnaya pitching their business plan.

Electric Nuts and Bolts: KZN Grade 11 Girls Achieve Big Results with Green Charcoal Company | News24

Thulile Zikhali, Zanele Khwela and Tiffany Ogbonnaya present their business plan.

Thulile Zikhali, Zanele Khwela and Tiffany Ogbonnaya present their business plan.

  • Three Grade 11 students are thrilled after their green business plan has won them cash, tablets and scholarships.
  • The winning business plan is eco-friendly charcoal from marula nuts.
  • The charcoal is sourced from marula nuts in an effort to reduce fossil fuel extraction and the depletion of natural resources.

Three Grade 11 girls from Sibusisiwe Comp Tech Secondary School in KwaZulu-Natal were the big winners of the Step Up 2A Green Start Up National Youth Entrepreneurship Awards, taking home a cash prize of R20,000, tablets and scholarships for their eco-friendly business plan that uses marula nuts to source charcoal.

Thulile Zikhali, Zanele Khwela and Tiffany Ogbonnaya, all 16, said they were still in shock after winning the award.

Speaking to News24, the enthusiastic teenagers said their winning business concept recognized the inadequacy of coal as an energy source and they had decided to create an environmentally friendly alternative. Coal is conceptually sourced from marula nuts in an effort to reduce fossil fuel extraction and natural resource depletion.

“When we were doing life orientation earlier this year, our teacher gave us a project on how to find environmentally friendly sources of energy, and from our research we found a study case about how you could make charcoal out of marula nuts. And we thought, ‘Why hasn’t anyone done this before?’

“When we entered the Step Up to a Start Up competition, which required us to come up with a start-up idea that solved an environmental problem, we already had the basics of our plan and we developed the concept for the competition.”, said Tiffany.


The girls have just been announced as the winners of the Step Up 2A Start Up National Youth Entrepreneurship Awards.

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The three teenagers said they spent eight months working on the winning project.

“We first wrote about it in our life orientation course. We [then] worked on it during breaks, and we were discussing the idea and doing more research. Then we participated in the Start Up competition and we expanded our concept and turned it into a business idea,” said Zanele.

“We then made it into the top 10 of the competition and were invited to the bootcamp process in Johannesburg. There we took the concept further, learning more about entrepreneurship and business concepts that can help the environment by same time.”

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According to the girls, the initial plan was born when they had to carry out a life orientation project on environmentally friendly energy sources.

“But then we entered the Start Up competition, which required a business idea that also solved an environmental problem, and so we realized we had the perfect concept,” Tiffany added.

marula nuts

“We collect the nuts, then we burn them for 45 minutes, then they turn into charcoal. The marula nut charcoal then works the same as other charcoals and can be used as a heat source. It’s perfect because it comes from a renewable source and a native tree,” Thulile said.

The girls said they are currently working on plans to turn it into a real business, even though they are “still only high school students”.

According to the teenagers, when they were announced as the big winners, they couldn’t believe it.

Tiffany said:

I’m not the type of person who cries when I’m happy, but I did. I didn’t expect to win, and there were so many teams with good business ideas, and I really didn’t think we had a chance. We didn’t expect that.

“I was so surprised. I said to the girls, ‘Oh, we didn’t make it, but we’ll try next time.’ But when they called our names, it was like a dream come true. I even asked Zanele to pinch me. I was so happy,” Thulile added.

Zanele said: “I really didn’t expect to be called as the winning team either because the other teams were also brilliant, but when they called our name I was so excited and so proud.”

proud teacher

The girl’s proud teacher, Thandenani Myende, said he was “happy” the girls won.

“Government talks so much about empowering women, and I feel like I really played a part in helping these girls on their journey to winning the pageant,” he said.

“It’s so important to involve children in eco-friendly businesses. We have all started to learn about the problems of global warming, and these projects will help us save what we have left and teach learners to being responsible citizens who are aware of what is happening in the world and helping it become cleaner and more sustainable.”


Primestars General Manager Martin Sweet with winning trio Tiffany Ogbonnaya, Zanele Khwela, Thulile Zikhali from Sibusisiwe Comp-Tech High School at KZN.

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The girls plan to start the business next year.

“We plan to start the business next year, then we want people to take care of our business while we’re in matric, but after (we’re done with school) we can focus on it. “, said Thulile.

The national youth green entrepreneurship program Step Up 2 A Green Start Up, run by youth development agency Primestars, has over the past eight years helped nearly 100,000 young people find the power to be a “positive force for the planet and the job-hungry South”. Africans”, by harnessing environmental challenges as new business opportunities.

“To create entrepreneurs and reduce our high unemployment rate, our young people will need to acquire skills and develop competencies that will enable them to start businesses and become gainful employers in a circular, restorative, inclusive and clean economy,” said Martin Sweet, Managing Director of Primestars. .

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