Stuart Ntlathi

Everything about Stuart Ntlathi defies belief and in that way he resembles many innovators and great scientists. He started the Stuart Ntlathi Science and Technology Institute when he was 13. The institute was formalised when, as a university drop-out, he decided to focus all his energies on it. He had felt trapped in electrical engineering, he says: “I left without hesitation. I’d spent my entire childhood tinkering with electronics and in the library on the internet — I was not learning anything new.” Every year since then the institute has done something exceptional: selecting 10 grade 10 science, maths and commerce pupils from three schools in different provinces and running them through a three-week innovation clinic where they learn basic science, engineering and technology, opening them up to the opportunities available in information and communications technology and helping them to build a project and business based on their own innovations. The best students team up to compete provincially and present their work at the International Innovation Indaba in December. Among the innovations to have emerged from the indaba are an automatic cooling umbrella with a built-in motor running on solar power and a battery that recycles carbon. How does he manage to do this without even a tertiary qualification? It’s a question the 26-year-old says he has become accustomed to. “There is no university in the world that offers an innovation degree. Creativity does not need a degree,” he says. He does employ a team of experts and an advisory board and a sales team to solicit sponsors. And here´s something else to stretch your imagination: Ntlathi is scheduled to go into space on the Virgin Galactic mission conceived by Richard Branson, a role model and fellow drop-out. This is a multimillion-dollar project, for which it has been agreed Ntlathi will only pay R600 000. Unbelievable! — Joonji Mdyogolo