Anthony Mpati is the founder and CEO of 115 Solutions, an engineering consulting company that, from its humble beginnings in 2011, has expanded to include 40 full-time employees and an enviable client list.
“Starting your own business is tough,” says Mpati, “but at some point you need to grab the bull by the horns and just get started. Don’t wait too long to gain traction – while a certain amount of research is needed, once you have your first client grab the opportunities that come your way and run with it.”
True to his word, Mpati has done just that. In 2013, after a friend showed him an advert, he applied for Anglo American’s Flagship Entrepreneur Acceleration Programme, an elite incubation programme aimed at high-calibre entrepreneurs. It was a rigorous selection process that involved four panel interviews with high-profile industry leaders, but eventually resulted in Mpati being selected, along with 23 other companies and 7 start-ups. It was just the impetus he needed to transform his fledgling company from a start-up to a supplier of big business.
Born in Limpopo, Mpati matriculated in 2000 and went on to the University of Cape Town to study his BSc Electrical Engineering degree. On completion, he joined Sasol in 2005 as an electrical engineer. In 2009 he developed a research paper, which formed the basis of his master’s dissertation in Engineering Management at the University of Pretoria in 2010.
Mpati left Sasol as a senior engineer in 2010 for a two-year stint as a Product Development Manager at Aberdare Cables, where he received the prestigious honour of representing the South African Cable Manufacturer’s Association at the international Jicable Conference in Paris in 2011. Shortly after the conference, with the entrepreneurial bug biting, he left Aberdare Cables and founded his own engineering consulting company, 115 Solutions, in July 2011.
Load-shedding, believe it or not, proved to be a major motivation in stepping out on his own. “When South Africa experienced load-shedding in 2008 and 2009, I saw this as an opportunity to take advantage of the many projects that I knew government would have to roll-out in order to upgrade its failing electrical infrastructure.” In 2013, Mpati applied for Anglo American’s Flagship Entrepreneur Acceleration Programme. “This quite literally changed the direction of my business and my life,” he states. “It involved an intensive 24 months of training and incubation, including a variety of business-related modules, seminars, networking opportunities and practical, hands-on projects.”
Mpati believes that business incubators such as Anglo’s acceleration programme are key to the development and future growth of start-ups, as they provide much-needed advisory, administrative and financial support services. “On top of this, new businesses often need guidance on how to successfully compete with established industry players,” he adds. “I was fortunate to be exposed to a network of experienced entrepreneurs and professional executives, who provided me with management guidance, operational assistance, and networking and access to market opportunities.”
Through synergies created by the programme, Mpati was also able to secure funding from Anglo American Zimele. Zimele was established in 1989 as a catalyst to developing emerging black businesses, empower entrepreneurs and facilitate job creation. The initiative, which has won a number of awards, is recognised internationally as a best-practice model in supporting SMEs and enabling them to operate within the economy through a combination of financial support and mentorship.
“It was just like a shark tank or dragons den type environment, where I had to pitch my business plan to a panel of successful entrepreneurs in order to secure potential funding,” he describes. Besides coming away with the capital injection that he was after, it was also here that Mpati connected with his two future partners and shareholders, who together have over 30-years’ experience in running their own businesses. “Our partnership with Zimele has resulted in some great media exposure as well,” he adds. “We are proudly endorsed by them, and continue to use their logo in our business cards and email signatures. It’s almost like having a big brother watching over us!”
Mpati has succeeded in transforming 115 Solutions from a start-up to a fully-fledged organisation that now employs 40 full-time staff members as well as a host of contract workers. Its head office is situated in Midrand with satellite offices in Rustenberg, Nelspruit and Polokwane. Its key focus areas include the execution of projects in infrastructure and development, electricity and energy, construction, manufacturing, petrochemicals and mining. The company works for a number of public sector organisations such as the Departments of Health and Public Works, the Independent Development Trust (IDT), Sentech, the City of Tshwane, City Power and the Gauteng Provincial Government. Other clients include De Beers, Anglo American, Aberdare Cables and General Motors, which appointed 115 Solutions as a preferred supplier in 2016. In the next three years Mpati aims to triple the company’s turnover without diverting from its core service of electrical, mechanical, control and instrumentation turnkey solutions.
His final word of advice for aspiring entrepreneurs? “Look for the opportunity and then have the tenacity, determination and drive to see it through,” he concludes.