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Tech Entrepreneur Restores The Dignity of Breast Cancer Survivors

Nneile Nkholise

27-year-old award-winning mechanical engineer and entrepreneur, Nneile Nkholise shares what inspired her to establish a business that produces breast prosthesis for breast cancer survivors and her success tips to young people

The Lesotho born mechanical engineering technologist and founder of iMed Tech Group was awarded Africa’s top female innovator at the World Economic Forum in Africa held in Rwanda in 2016 and was also one of the 100 entrepreneurs who was selected to represent their countries at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit the same year. iMed Tech Group uses Additive Manufacturing (AM) to design breast and facial prostheses for cancer and burn victims. She shares where it all started:

Share briefly with us about your childhood, what career aspirations did you have growing up?

Growing up I was a creative child, who enjoyed art and playing around with colours; nothing was complete in my eyes if it didn’t have a spectrum of colours. However, my career dream was to work in football and eventually be General Secretary of FIFA (Federation of International Football Association) before I turned 40 years old. I have forever been passionate about football for as long as I remember. My dream led me to study a lot about football; its history and governance, so I followed football so much that back at primary and high school, football was the only conversation I had with my classmates, friends and even my family.

Share with us what sparked the decision to study Mechanical Engineering?

The decision to study Mechanical Engineering was my mother’s. I had never imagined myself studying Mechanical Engineering because, during my time, we were told that Mechanical Engineering was for people who just want to build or fix cars; and I was not interested in opening up engines for a living. However, my brother who was a Mechanical Engineer convinced me that I would eventually fall in love with it.

Tell us about iMed, which you launched in 2015, how has it been running it, how many people do you employ and how many women have you been able to cater for since?

iMed Tech was launched in 2015 from an Aha! moment I experienced during my Master’s research. I was doing research on the application of Additive Manufacturing in fabricating medical prosthesis, which was a first in South Africa to introduce Additive Manufacturing in the medical field. What I noticed was that for a long time people were doing world-class academic research projects however it would just end at academic research and no one was looking at creating a business model from the research.  I built iMed Tech from those gaps with the goal that 10 years from 2015, I would be heading one of the biggest BioTech company leading research and innovation of products that will assist in creating better tech-driven product solutions in medicine.

Currently the company still has a small team of under 5 people, and our goal of having women only has led us to having 4 women in the team  with a wide network of women who are experts in technology that we work with.

Share with us some of your challenges and highlights in your business venture

Running a business comes with an array of challenges, such as getting funding, making sure you are tax compliant, ensuring that you are meeting your goals, reaching your customers, making sales… there are so many challenges that could easily make one slip and lose direction, that is why it is always important that a person becomes fully focused.

My highlight is waking up everyday knowing that I am building something that will have an enormous impact on so many people’s lives. There is nothing as rewarding as working everyday and stepping into your dream.

How do you define success and have you achieved it?

Success to me is fulfilling the little tasks that add up to the bigger goal. I have achieved success so many times in my life, that I have even lost count.  Success is not a destination, it’s the journey. I believe that there is a high level of success that we achieve when we keep going on in life and chase our goals against all odds.

Who and what do you credit your business achievements to?

I owe my business achievement to the battles that my mom fought to ensure that she becomes the first person in her family to get a formal education. I believe if she had not fought the way she did as a young girl from a village in Lesotho where women were told that the only good thing to do is to be stay at home wives at a young age; my life would not be the way it is now.

Beyond that she has been my pillar and someone who put up every little cent she had, to make sure that my business picks up from the ground.

Describe your busiest day?

My busiest day is usually Tuesdays because that is the time when I do a lot of admin work. I always find myself leaving the office after hours and sometimes go to bed with my laptop. Thursdays are also busy too because I enjoy lining-up my meetings on Thursday, so I go up and down from one meeting to the next.

What is the biggest goal you aim to achieve through iMed?

I just want to contribute to improving the quality of healthcare by creating medical products that improve people’s lives

What is the best career advice you have received?

The best career advice I ever got was to just do it, and learn whilst doing it.

What are your success tips to young people striving to be successful in their respective industries?

Just do it – The easiest way to be an entrepreneur and succeed in entrepreneurship is to just take that step and do it. No matter how messy you start, just start and learn as you go on.

Let your feet be your carriage – You are going to fall a lot of times, but make sure your feet are strong so that when you fall, you get the strength to get up on your feet and keep going on.

Learn, Unlearn and Relearn – Some of the greatest experience of being an entrepreneur is the opportunity of learning new things, so you need to always be ready to learn more and more.

Seize the moment – There is not a greater time to be an entrepreneur in the world than now. We are surrounded by so many opportunities, and now is the perfect time to seize the moment.

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