Lethabo Motswaledi

Chief executive, 3D Power

‘When we speak of 3D Printing, we refer to a process that turns a blueprint into a real product, an actual three-dimensional object,” says the future-minded Lethabo Motswaledi on 3D Power, a 3D printing company she co-established in 2014.
Motswaledi studied geomatics engineering, an applied science in the rapidly developing engineering discipline that deals with spatial information at the University of Cape Town. She went on to further complete her MA in engineering, where she discovered a strong desire to start something of her own, which is when 3D Power was born.
Having studied a degree that allowed for the visualisation of the real world in 3D software, 3D printing became a natural avenue to explore. What started out as a hobby quickly turned into products that she realised could be commercialised. One of their most innovative products is Hello Baby 3D Prints, which converts ultrasound data into 3D prints, providing expectant parents with the opportunity to “meet” their unborn babies, the first of its kind on the continent.
An Allan Gray Orbis Foundation Fellow and a Mandela Rhodes Scholar, she says: “My engineering degree gave me a broad scope of what was possible and the confidence to venture into new technical territory. And through starting my business I’ve had the opportunity to learn how to apply all these skills.”
The most challenging obstacle she’s had to overcome has been learning to operate her business without any external funding. “A false message often preached to entrepreneurs is that the first thing they need to do is secure funding to survive. Contrary to this, I have learnt that your business needs customers to survive, and they will be your initial funders. In South Africa where there is a huge shortage of risk capital; one needs to start with customers who believe in the product enough to buy it. Only then will the funders flock to your business.”
She’s also launched The Hourglass Project, a project that seeks to encourage active citizenship through a digital network of synchronised hourglasses that count down 67 minutes on Mandela Day. Through this project, Motswaledi says she and her team are hoping to inspire the citizens of South Africa to become active and play their part.
— Welcome Lishivha

Twitter: @ThabsMotswaledi