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The Rani brothers have found a revolutionary way to provide IT services to the townships of South Africa. Founded in 2004 by brothers, Luvuyo and Lonwabo Rani, as a single internet café in the Western Cape’s Khayelitsha Township, Silulo Ulutho Technology (“Silulo”) means “we bring value through technology”. In six years, Silulo has grown from a single internet café to a US$0.5 million company that offers computer training courses, internet café and business center services, and IT retail and repair. In the process the brothers have matured from two township kids selling refurbished computers out of their truck, to nationally recognized businessmen and role models. Silulo joined Endeavor South Africa’s Excelerator incubator program in 2009 with four offices and today employs 65 people in 18 stores across seven Western Cape townships, affording access to IT training and services for thousands of residents of
The Rani brothers grew up in a township in the Eastern Cape with very little exposure to IT. They worked multiple jobs throughout high school and in their late teens moved to Khayelitsha—a township with a population of 1.5 million just outside of Cape Town—to attend the Cape Peninsula University of Technology. During college, on top of working to pay tuition, they had to travel over an hour into Cape Town to complete assignments or check their email. Luvuyo was confronted with this problem again years later, when Luvuyo, who was teaching accounting, economics, and entrepreneurship in a high school Khayelitsha: the South African government introduced new curriculum standards that required high schools to teach computer skills. Luvuyo took out a loan, bought refurbished computers from a supplier in Cape Town, and started selling them to his fellow teachers. He recruited Lonwabo and they brought on a third partner with technical experience to handle repairs and maintenance.
Finally, in 2005, the Rani brothers used the money they had saved to sign a lease for a small store in the Khayelitsha mall. The café started with 10 computers and dial-up internet access, but it quickly saw demand for a wide range of IT related products and services. Business owners wanted business cards; students needed to fax their homework assignments; aspiring entrepreneurs offered to buy the café’s computers. In the early years the brothers invested every cent earned in equipment and employees to meet these needs. Within two years they offered a full range of business center services (printing, faxing, photocopying), retail sales of computers and related products, and extra services such as a CV design and publishing service. From the start the brothers had recognized a huge demand for computer skills and in 2006 Silulo launched its first training course. Cash strapped schools had fallen short of the government mandate and high school graduates still did not know how to use basic word processors. The US$450 six-month course graduated fifteen students its first semester.
Today Silulo is a household name in Khayelitsha, praised for empowering residents through convenient and affordable access to technology. Each June and December 500 students dress in their robes and caps, and graduate from Silulo’s SETA certified training programs. Silulo graduates, 60% of whom are unemployed when they start, have gone on to work as call center operators, IT sales representatives, and Silulo employees. Thanks to its first mover advantage Silulo’s internet café and business centers are located in the highest foot-traffic areas. Students estimate they save over 8 hours/week avoiding the round trip into the city, while employees of local businesses of estimate they save 6 hours/week. Silulo also offers IT products retail and repair that is very popular with small businesses owners.
In 2010, Silulo established a partnership with the African cellular network Vodacom. In exchange for rights to sell their products on a revenue share basis at Silulo cafes, Vodacom will finance the roll-out of new Silulo centers, refurbish existing stores, and provide mobile technology training support to all of Silulo’s staff. Vodacom’s financial support will enable Silulo to open five cafes per year and establish its brand across the country. In 2010 Silulo opened its first training academy with advanced online courses to compete with local universities, and in 2011 more than 1,600 people graduated from Silulo’s training courses.
These passionate and socially responsible entrepreneurs have created a brand that is the envy of multinationals and a business with the potential to transform life in South African townships. Now operating over 18 centers across the Western cape, Silulo’s all-in-one approach to IT products and services is playing an integral role in empowering and creating opportunities for people through IT knowledge and access their community.
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