Nomahlubi Nazo credits a former employer’s decision not to grant her leave as one of the propellants that pushed her closer to her dream of running her own business.
Instead of sulking, Nazo took it in her stride and decided to enter her dormant company into a competition.
“I entered a business competition and I won and I was like okay, I quit,” she says in an interview with SAnews.
A month later, the mother of two received a bursary to study Cosmetic Formulation Science at the University of Cape Town (UCT).
Without a job, Nazo had to downgrade her lifestyle, while also going through a divorce after her then-husband did not support her dream of becoming her own boss.
“I had to decide, do I want to be married to someone who doesn’t support my vision, or do I want to risk living a life that is not really how I want to live?” the 37-year-old says.
She knew that staying in the relationship would stifle her progress and defer her dream.
While studying at UCT, she obtained an internship at Indigo Brands, formerly known as Yardley of London, at their research and product development lab.
She describes her former boss as a pleasant person and her co-workers as people who supported her drive to learn.
However, the urge to branch out on her own would not be silenced.
“It was going to be a nice job to take career-wise but it wasn’t the trajectory I wanted for my life and I didn’t want to be sucked into the niceness of the career.”
During the course of her internship, she ensured that she absorbed as much knowledge as she could before fully committing to her business in 2018.
Since then, the Cosmetic Formulation Scientist has never looked back.
She won most competitions in which she entered her company, Foi Science, and in the same year, she was named the FemBioBiz Pitching Den winner in the student category. She walked away with lab equipment from Merck.
She also scooped the SA Innovation Summit award, winning R70 000 from the SAB Foundation. The winnings have helped her to buy containers and raw material to develop cosmetics brands.
Her company converts fish scale waste into collagen to make hydrogels for burns, scars, slow-healing wounds and ulcers.
She also ventured into customised skin care solutions for customers to make ends meet.
In addition, the Technology Innovation Agency (TIA), which is an entity of the Department of Science, and Innovation, has been funding Nazo’s business for the past two years.
“So now I can register a patent and do a clinical trial for the wound care gels that I designed using biopolymer,” says Nazo.
Today, Foi Science provides much-needed jobs to many other women in Nazo’s community.
“I started training unemployed women and youth on how to make soaps and lotions, and convert agricultural waste into activated charcoal to make face masks, soaps, tooth whitening powders, air purifiers and pet care products so we can raise funds for the start-up,” she says.
Nazo also recently welcomed 20 interns for the next phase of trade, as she begins her marketing drive.
Her skin, wound and hair care products will be hitting online shelves soon. These products will be sold locally as well as abroad.
The scientist is preparing to distribute her goods in Zambia, Malawi, Tanzania, Namibia, Botswana, Swaziland, Lesotho, Zimbabwe and Kenya.
“If it wasn’t for TIA, I wouldn’t have achieved the things I did. Without them, I would not have been this far,” she says.
Through TIA, Nazo also represented South Africa at the Africa Regional Forum on Sustainable Development in Zimbabwe this year.
To get to where she is today, Nazo learnt some lessons along the way.
She initially registered her company in 2015 after taking a job at Unilever in Johannesburg. At the time, she thought she would tend to the company “as a side job”, while also completing her BTech at the Tshwane University of Technology.
“I later found out that you can’t do business as a side hustle when you have a very demanding job. I was studying at the time, had a child and I was pregnant.”
Her company had to take a backseat but she continued her research into biopolymer, the substance or material consisting of very large molecules, or macromolecules.
In 2017, she then joined an importer and distributor of chemical raw materials, which find application in the adhesive, coatings, food, paper, plastics and rubber industries.
She took working for people that had set up their own factory as a prod to pursuing her business.
“I think it was a nudge from the universe to say, this is something you want to do. I then decided maybe it’s time I do my own business.”
The scientist, who at first graduated from the Nelson Mandela University with a National Diploma in Polymer Technology, remembers how her heart yearned for more, even though the job and paycheque were good.
When COVID-19 hit South Africa in March 2020, Nazo rolled up her sleeves and taught women how to make hand sanitisers and cloth masks, which were donated to hospitals and schools.
As anyone in business will attest, running a business is no walk in the park.
“I do cry when the money is not coming together and expenses are way more than what I’m currently making, and things aren’t working out as they should.
“You tend to think; did I make the right decision by abandoning my career? I still have emails from recruiters asking if I want a job. If you have R100 between you and poverty, you kind of think, I want the job,” she admits.
However, Nazo has come too far to walk away from the business that she started from nothing.
“I think it would be selling out in a sense. I train other women on how to make cosmetic and home care products to feed their families as well.”
Nazo is also grateful for her family’s support as a single parent.
“The kids stay with my mom when I have to travel. When I want to give up, she says I’ve made too many sacrifices to give up now.”
She describes her boys, aged 11 and 4, as the wind beneath her wings.
Nazo’s father, who was a teacher, was the most influential figure in the path she has chosen.
“He really encouraged my inquisitive mind. I went to a girls’ school in Port Elizabeth. Our science teacher was an awesome lady and our school had a very nice lab, and I loved science,” she recalls.
While her peers wanted to become medical doctors, it was in these corridors that the seed for Applied Sciences was planted.
“I was quite a nerd. I wanted to invent things. I always loved people and that’s why I wanted to be a social entrepreneur,” she says.
Her journey, which no doubt has not been easy, has helped her to develop strength she did not know she possesses.
“I’ve learnt that as a woman in business, I mustn’t hide my talent.”
What also keeps her going are the two pillars of her establishment, which are to help and use science to uplift others.
With Women’s Month coming to an end today, it is clear that Nazo is not only interested in pursuing success for herself but for society as well. – SAnews.gov.za