Lethabo Motswaledi always had a burning desire to live a life that made an impact. She might not have been able to name an exact career, but she knew it would involve doing her own thing and she knew it would have to big. She recalls: “As a child who was fortunate enough to be from a family of accomplished individuals, I felt that I had big shoes to fill and that I had to make something of myself.”
With a business on the go in the cutting-edge industry of 3D printing, she’s well on her way to filling those shoes. 3DPower, which she started with classmate Matthew Westaway, has been running for two years and already they are celebrating the launch of two products. Hello Baby 3D Prints allows expectant parents to see their baby before its birth! Theirs is the first company in Africa to successfully convert 3D ultrasounds into 3D prints. Their second product, The Hourglass Project, forms part of a nation building project that enjoys support from both the Nelson Mandela Foundation and the World Design Organisation. A 3D sculpture of Nelson Mandela over an hourglass gets activated on July 18th to trigger 67 minutes of activism. Very soon they will also be launching an accredited skills programme aimed at training people in modern craft production using 3D technology.
Lethabo and Matthew’s paths crossed at UCT where they both studied Geomatics Engineering, which, in a nutshell, is all about spatial design. Having studied a degree that “allowed for the visualisation of the real world in 3D software,” Lethabo explains that 3D printing was a natural avenue to explore. What started out as a hobby quickly turned into products that could be commercialised. The technology underpinning 3D Power’s services allows clients to travel from idea to tangible product in a straight line. In other words, there are no pit stops or detours involving moulds and testing numerous iterations of that mould until it’s just right. Theirs is a business that not only saves you hours but rands and material as well.
Even though Lethabo couldn’t articulate an intended career when she was young, this state of not knowing only lasted until she turned 16. That’s when she decided to become an entrepreneur. She recalls eagerly filling in the application for the Allan Gray Orbis Foundation Fellowship, feeling like she was born to answer some of the questions and taking it far more seriously than her university application. “I felt that regardless of what I studied, I would always ultimately pursue a life in entrepreneurship, which is something that isn’t easily taught.” This mindset and the hands-on experience the Foundation afforded her explains why she turned down every job offer she received and chose instead to dive right into the world of startups.
Of her experience in the Fellowship Lethabo says: “I would encourage anyone with a burning desire to make an impact to apply for the Fellowship. This is because the Fellowship not only provides immense opportunities, but because it surrounds one with like-minded individuals who are just as passionate about making an impact.” This burning desire of Lethabo’s led her to apply not only for the Fellowship but for the Mandela Rhodes Scholarship as well. “All my life I remember feeling like I needed to do something special enough to meet Mr Mandela.” She couldn’t quite manage to extend Tata Madiba’s years on this earth, but by being awarded the scholarship she finds comfort in knowing that she is part of the legacy he created. “This is extremely significant to me.”
The other significant achievement of hers is making the brave decision to pursue a life of entrepreneurship right after her degree studies. “I eat, live and breathe my startup.” Such expressions of job satisfaction are rare but always a sign that someone is doing what they were born to do.
On Lethabo’s five-to-ten-year to-do list is growing the 3D Power team (so that her and Matthew’s have-to-do-today lists can be spread out a little more), taking part in constructive dialogue as often as possible (so she can continue learning how to make an impact) and ensuring that her brand (both her company’s and her own) becomes well known locally and abroad.