Hasan Darwish says he wanted to create an elegant model that matches bottom-of-the-pyramid economies’ need for opportunity with mainstream economies’ need for secure last-mile solutions to access wider markets.

How does it work?


According to Hasan, base-of the-pyramid business owners will be identified and trained for up to a year through a community incubator programme.


“They will be able to start their businesses or services almost immediately once their Modular Innobox of choice has been produced and moved to the site. Everything from the solar power to the standardised business processes will already have been integrated and tested off-site.”


Rural entrepreneurs won’t have to fork out huge amounts of start-up funds if they can secure sponsorship from companies. “Owner operators will pay back or earn ownership through their hard work over a three-year period if the unit is sponsored,” Hasan says.


Another exciting aspect of the Innobox is that its remote data analytics and training elements will bring exciting networking possibilities to their owners. Sponsoring companies will also be able to remotely monitor their investment and intervene if necessary.


Thinking out of the box unlocks business potential

By thinking out of the box, a lecturer of the Faculty of Engineering on the NWU’s Potchefstroom Campus is making it easier for rural entrepreneurs to start and run businesses.


Hasan Darwish, a lecturer in industrial engineering, has developed the Modular Innobox - a movable unit that entrepreneurs can use to operate in low-income communities in Africa and Asia.

The Modular Innobox can be used to house everything from micro factories and spaza shops to hair salons and gyms.Modular Innoboxes are containers that are solar powered and secured, have internet connectivity and can be used as a base from which to operate just about any type of business.


This innovation is part of Modularise, a new initiative that Hasan has devised to address the many complexities that rural entrepreneurs experience.


Movable infrastructure in a box


The problem facing most new and emerging enterprises is that without stable power supply, payment infrastructure, security, data analytics, community buy-in and continuous training, their initiatives quickly become liabilities.

Business necessities are often lacking or unavailable in rural communities.


Modularise aims to overcome these challenges by not only training new business people but also helping them to customise their own movable infrastructure with all the necessities fully integrated into the package.


Hasan says the Modular Innobox is a result of his vision to create a tool to formalise and modernise base-of-the-pyramid (BoP) economies by packaging different services and production tools into custom-made variations of the units.


“It also makes provision for remote training, doing business without cash and using standard business and operations procedures. They also allow entrepreneurs to connect to the internet and collect data.”


Quick and easy to deploy


The customised units can be quickly deployed in any community. Hasan says Modularise will also provide entrepreneurs with best-practice processes, training material and methods for their unique business through consultation.

“The containers are of much lower cost than permanent infrastructure.”

He believes it is an affordable solution that will find favour in the communities where they are needed the most.


The containers can be transformed into basically any kind of business, such as gyms, micro factories, hairdresser studios, spaza shops and much more.

“With this innovation we challenge traditional methods of product and service delivery; I consider it to be in many ways like the Uber of franchises.” Hassan says the units, when run successfully, will enable communities to improve their overall socio-economic status.


“It’s a perfect solution to not only empower rural entrepreneurs, but also boost rural economies to thrive,” he concludes.


The NWU & U


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“Base-of the-pyramid business owners can choose a Modular Innobox either from an available design or customise their own.”


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Winners of the NWU's Alumni Awards are from left Karen Meiring (Business Leadership Award), Dr Tanya Robinson (Research Award), Yvonne Mfolo (Community Involvement Award), Dr Theuns Eloff (Lifetime Achievement Award), Judge Frans Kgomo (Public Service Award) and Kobie van Rensburg (Arts and Culture Award). Due to urgent commitments elsewhere, the other two winners, Shanté Bukes (Sport Award) and Prof Llewellyn van Zyl (Young Alumnus Award) were not able to attend the event. Their representatives received the awards on their behalf.