Harnessing technology to drive innovation

28 June 2017 | Story Chido Mbambe. Photo Supplied.
UCT alumnus Rapelang Rabana is a technology entrepreneur whose interests lie in technology and education.
UCT alumnus Rapelang Rabana is a technology entrepreneur whose interests lie in technology and education.

UCT alumnus Rapelang Rabana, who has achieved phenomenal success in her field, will be speaking about being a young entrepreneur at the Development and Alumni Department (DAD)'s Distinguished Alumni Speaker Series talk this weekend.

Rabana is an entrepreneur and thought leader in the expanding technology industry. She was a founding member of Yeigo Communications, one of the world’s first Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) applications. Her latest project, Rekindle Learning, develops mobile learning technology for both academia and corporate training environments.

Botswana-born Rabana completed a BSc in computer science at UCT. At age 22, right out of university, she embarked on what has been a non-stop journey of entrepreneurship and self-discovery.

“Slowly but surely, I found the tech medium to be the perfect portal for exploring the issues and questions perennially present in both my school and university life,” she says. “The creative power behind technology allows for endless possibilities in a world desperately in need of solutions – really, what is not to love!”

Rabana co-founded Yeigo Communications with former classmates Wilter du Toit and Lungisa Matshoba.

“We built one of the earliest mobile VoIP applications in the world. Having just graduated and full of fresh enthusiasm, we learnt how to build both business and commercial software literally from the ground up – one Google search at a time.”

When the trio started the company they battled to get funding, but they persevered.

“Our parents agreed to feed and house us; this is actually the most critical form of funding because it freed us to pursue every waking moment of the business venture,” she says.

The team was able to build a prototype within nine months and because they had something to show that demonstrated their commitment, they were then able to raise funding.

“The lessons that experience brought with it were innumerable and engendered in me a hardy belief in the power of diligence and perseverance – no doubt these lessons remain with me to this day,” she says.

Rekindle Learning

“Rekindle Learning seeks to define more efficient ways to learn and build capabilities in young people so we can fully capture the demographic dividend of our continent,” says Rabana.

Their work includes using the concept of micro-learning to help financial services professionals prepare for regulatory examinations and significantly improve success rates.

Rekindle Learning is also about to launch its first solution for universities, English Word Power, which is an online bridging programme for students to improve their level of English proficiency. “Given the #FeesMustFall movement and the need to make universities more inclusive, overcoming the language barrier is an area of major importance,” she says.  

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Rabana was featured on the cover of Forbes Africa magazine, honoured by the World Economic Forum (WEF) as a Young Global Leader for 2017 and was invited to join a panel at the WEF Annual Meeting in Davos in 2012 – all before she turned 30. She was also named one of Africa’s Best Young Entrepreneurs by Forbes and was included in Oprah Magazine’s “O Power List”.

“The biggest challenge as a female entrepreneur has always been the internal battle of appreciating my own value and trusting the validity of my own journey in the absence of external points of reference,” she says. “Our understanding of entrepreneurship, business and the supporting literature is predominantly built around traditional masculine archetypes and behavioural traits.”

She started her business because she wanted to create her own environment. She says it has been a journey of learning to trust herself and her intuition.

“I’d encourage anyone else to do the same.”

She is also a partner at Nisela Capital where she is learning about financial services and private equity.

“I decided to invest energy into this space with the end goal of being able to effectively raise and manage venture capital and private equity funding in the technology sector,” she says. “Being an entrepreneur allows me to create my own environment and define my own rules for success and how I want to live my life. It is a lot of hard work, but it is entirely my own creation and that keeps me fuelled.”

Rabana will be speaking on Saturday, 1 July 2017, at the Distinguished Alumni Speaker Series talk at the New Lecture Theatre from 14:00 to 16:00.

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