Robotics & Drones: Engineering a Social Venture
Zoleka Mosiah ‘20
2017 Pitch Camp Winner & 2018 Draper Finalist
Zoleka Mosiah ‘20 is what one would call ‘a seasoned entrepreneur’ on campus: attendee of the annual Grinspoon, Garvey & Young Entrepreneurship Conference, winner of the 2017 Pitch Camp, and regular participant in the Innovation Strategy Workshops hosted by the Conway Center. During her sophomore year, Zoleka came up with an idea for an online platform that promotes money-saving practices through a digital wallet for reward cards and loyalty programs. With that idea, Zoleka entered the 2017 Draper Competition for Collegiate Women Entrepreneurs, not with the goal to win, but more so to familiarize herself with the entrepreneurial process.
“I wasn’t really looking to pursue the idea. It was more about going through the motions of setting up a business,” Zoleka explains.
Since participating in the Draper Competition, Zoleka has found something that more closely matches her passion for engineering and her determination to use her entrepreneurial skills to make an impact in her community in Johannesburg, South Africa. Together with team, she is working on building a double-bottom line social venture that blends the structure of a revenue-generating startup with the mission of a non-profit organization.
“The goal is to get young, black South African kids from previously disadvantaged backgrounds involved in robotics and expose them to the benefits of this growing industry,” says Zoleka. “A lot of the kids in the government’s school system don’t have access to these type of things and don’t get the training in math and the sciences they need.” To generate money for robotics education, Zoleka plans to work with local farmers on improving their agricultural practices by employing drone technology to collect data from local fields and crop harvests.
While it would be easier to run the venture from home with her family, Zoleka thinks she can contribute more meaningfully from abroad by identifying funding and financing opportunities for her venture. Additionally, Zoleka plans to take advantage of the learning opportunities in the U.S. that will build on her business leadership skills and robotics expertise. “Robotics clubs already exist and so do drones for agriculture. I can learn from the US companies that already do what I want to do in South Africa,” she explains. Deciding to come to the U.S. for college was a big turning point in Zoleka’s entrepreneurial journey - one that comes with its own set of challenges: “I came in cold and had to meet everyone from scratch. There is no background and history that I can link to and our stories are very different, so it would be easier at home but I don’t think it would be as worthwhile for me,” she reflects. Zoleka knows that she will come across a few more roadblocks down the line, yet she is very hopeful that her hard work will pay off.
“It will be difficult to start a company where I don’t live anymore most of the time, but I think I can make it happen with the support of my team if we split the load. I have so much support right now and I need to force myself to take risks and invest in myself.”
Although Zoleka is now confident about the potential of her venture, she has experienced first hand that good business ideas don’t just happen, but need to be developed over time. To cope with failure and ‘bad ideas’, Zoleka has come up with a strategy for the ideation process: “even if the idea isn’t very good, there were parts of it that are good and that have been applied somewhere else; so I use parts of all my bad ideas to make a better idea and to learn from the things that have not worked for me previously.” Knowing that failure is not the end of an idea, but simply a stepping stone to success has made Zoleka realize that entrepreneurship is not about business ownership, but more about the qualities one exhibits. Her advice for other emerging student entrepreneurs: “don’t be afraid of saying ‘yes, I am an entrepreneur.’”
Zoleka Mosiah ‘20
Zoleka is a junior engineering major and was born and raised in Johannesburg, South Africa. She is the founder of a family-owned venture run entirely by black South African women, that incorporates Zoleka’s passion for engineering, robotics and technology. Zoleka is involved in several student orgs on campus, including the Black Students’ Alliance (BSA), the Smith African and Caribbean Students’ Association (SACSA), and is president of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE). Post Smith, Zoleka is interested in pursuing a career in the corporate world of finance, becoming a full-time entrepreneur, or engaging in her passion for sound engineering.