The Road Less Travelled

The Road Less Travelled

harald oswin“My story begins with my mom’s.” This acknowledgement from Harald Oswin reveals a lot about his  motivations  and  sense  of  self. Harald has several accomplishments for his age. His anchoring is due to his mother’s commitment to giving him the best education. He attended Waterford Kamhlaba United World College of Southern Africa in Swaziland on a 50% scholarship. Harald’s mother made ends meet through a retail job and sacrificed her annual leave for nearly ten years to earn extra money. From her, he learnt the value of hard work and believing that it’ll open doors. The one thing he’d like to give her in return is the key to open the doors to her dream home one day.

By  the  time  Harald  was  in  his  final  year  of  school,  he  had  flourished  so  much academically and in his role as Chairperson of the Student Representative Council that the school increased his scholarship to a full one and wrote off all the debt he’d accumulated over his school career. He owes a lot to Waterford. Besides awarding him with a full scholarship, they also acknowledged the many late nights he would spend on campus. He would often be working on projects until very late at night and then have to walk five kilometres back home, trudging through fields and a ghetto. After observing his unwavering dedication, the school offered him boarding the following semester.

Harald is the co-founder of Geyserflicker, a company that is set to improve the lives of millions  of  South  Africans  by  relieving  the  pressure  on  our  power  grid,  bringing household electricity bills down and saving us from getting up early in the mornings to flick our geyser switches back on.

Harald had  to  be  at  work  by  06h00  every morning during his internship  at  Rocket  Internet  in Cape  Town  in  2012. His flatmates told him that the geyser, as the home’s biggest electricity hog, should be kept off as much as possible. This meant that he would have to be up at 04h00 to switch the geyser on and give it time to boil. It frustrated him so much that he even considered hiring someone whose only job would be to stand by the distribution board and flick the switch every morning!

By the  time  the Foundation’s annual Jamboree  took  place,  he  had  a slightly more refined solution – a device (not a person) to flick the geyser switch. He received the support he needed to pursue the idea further. 

Lasting connections

Soon after Jamboree Harald boarded a plane to Cambridge, Massachusetts, in the United States to begin his third semester at Harvard University as a student in Applied Mathematics. He applied for a Harvard scholarship thanks to the encouragement of Mr. John  Storer,  an  inspirational  high  school  teacher, and  received  his  acceptance  letter soon  after  starting  at  UCT  as  an  Allan  Gray  Candidate  Fellow  in  2011.  The Harvard scholarship meant that he no longer needed the funding offered by the Foundation, but he chose to remain part of the Fellowship Programme, participating as much as he could albeit remotely. At Harvard he was more motivated than ever to find someone to make the geyser switch device for him.

After crashing many engineering classes in search of such a person, he met Barry McKenna who helped him build the first prototype. Barry is now co-founder of Geyser Flicker. Their business idea was a  finalist  in  the  Harvard  College Innovation Challenge in 2013 and soon after that, they were offered a Fellowship and seed funding from the New York-based Resolution Project.

This funding allowed Barry and Harald to progress to the next phase of their business: registering their company with two more directors and producing a prototype. Since  2014  they  have  also  had  their  business  incubated  at The  Innovation  Hub in Pretoria  as  part  of  the  Maxum  incubation  programme. With all the resources that incubation offers – access to infrastructure, business mentors, legal professionals and venture capitalists – their business ought to be financially viable soon. This will probably happen a lot quicker considering that Harald was acknowledged as the Fastest Moving Green Entrepreneur in the Maxum Programme at the end of 2014.

Harald and Barry also entered The Green City Startup, an entrepreneurship competition held in collaboration with the of Johannesburg’s Challenge Fund.  They were selected as one of eight finalists to receive grant capital. This funding is earmarked to help them get their first bulk orders from municipalities. They also stand a chance to be one of two finalists to walk away with R1 million at the end of August.

Remote dedication

Another feat Harald is proud of is being the first Candidate Fellow to complete the four-year Fellowship Programme remotely. Unlike South African-based Candidate Fellows, Harald didn’t have access to mentors or dialogue sessions.

Just knowing that there was someone else on campus also putting in the hours to submit ignitions would have been great. But this was a luxury he didn’t have and he chose to do it purely out of passion. In fact, the habit of thinking up solutions for inefficiencies around him (that’s the gist of ignitions) and submitting them on a monthly basis has become such an ingrained habit that Harald still regularly pens down his ignition ideas despite being finished with the Fellowship Programme.

“I think the main way the Foundation has helped me is that it has allowed me to shift my mindset and it  has  made  me  more  entrepreneurial.  I can’t  thank  them  enough  for always  making  me  think  in  an  entrepreneurial  manner.”  He also  cites  the  annual Jamborees as having been a highlight of his yearly calendar and notes that despite being remote for most of his Candidate Fellowship, he never felt any divide whenever he was reunited with the South African cohort of Candidate Fellows.

When  asked  to  explain  the significance  of  being  a  Candidate  Fellow  he  replies  by acknowledging the great responsibility of having had so much invested in you. The only appropriate response would be to live an extraordinary and selfless life, making every effort to bring positive change to South Africa.

 

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1 Comment

  • Deborah Kapenda 22/07/2015 at 3:50 pm

    Going into the Interview today at Allan Gray, I wish I had read this article before entering. It is inspiration and motivating how Allan Gray can make the Ordinary Extraordinary. “having had so much invested in you”. That is what Allan Gray means to me.

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