Notes from FNB Enablist Seda Business Launchpad Competition 2009

Q. Tell us briefly about your most relevant achievements, your key skills and abilities, and any relevant business experience.

GDI believe I was the first person in SA to introduce Bamboo as a trading product (to be added to our existing range of products being Sisal and Seagrass natural fibre flooring). Bamboo was initially introduced as a flooring option but later my captivation with this amazing plant and its uses led me to explore a complete range of bamboo products, fencing, screening, flooring, counter tops, cupboard doors, shelving, and now Bamboo cladding decor options. Key skills include constant drive, research, development and innovation towards a more sustainable way of life that involves using renewable resources as a medium to lessen our reliance on forest timber. I have the ability to inspire and encourage people to change their existing habits and to see new opportunities for the emerging "Green economy" I have 20 years experience in owning and running a business importing and selling natural fibre products.

Q. What is your product or service? Describe its key features and any relevant technical or benefit information.

GD - My Product is to introduce the commercial farming of Bamboo. Bamboo is a grass with the ability to adapt to many growing conditions. It absorbs 4 times more carbon from the atmosphere than trees and is an abundant source of Biomass. Bambusa Balcooa has been naturalised to SA conditions for over 300 years and is found in small groves throughout the country but no wide scale farming is currently underway. Besides SA indigenous Bamboo, Thamnocalamus tessellatus (Bergbamboes), only Bambusa Balcooa is found elsewhere in SA. Bambusa Balcooa is of Indian origin, a non invasive clumping variety, with green culms growing to a max 25m height, a Culm width of 150mm and reaching full maturity in 5-8 years. Harvested in 3-5 years compared to softwood timbers which require 20 years. These plants are imported from India where they have been micro propagated by tissue culture and grown in vitro. They arrive as small plants 10cm high and transplanted into organic soil by an appointed nursery where they are "hardened" before commercial planting begins. Spring is best for rest of SA or autumn in Western Cape. Watering is required for 5 months only, they become drought resistant thereafter. Harvesting can start after 2-3years.

Q. What problem does your product or service address or solve for your target market? Briefly describe your existing customer base.

GD - Bamboo offers an important substitute to the reliance on soft wood timbers which are slow growing and extract vital minerals from the soil. Bamboo enriches the soil and with its extensive rhizome root system offers erosion control. Our existing customers are nurseries, DIY chain stores, timber and board suppliers, retailers and end users. Opportunities still exist in the building material industry, low cost housing developments as outdoor wall cladding, in housing construction for roof trusses, ceilings, plywood and indoor cladding. Timber frame houses can be replaced with bamboo planks as cladding on plywood. Flooring and Bamboo decking are the latest additions.

Q. Who are your main competitors? Why do you believe customers will purchase from you in preference to them in the future?? (200 words maximum)

GD - There is no other Bamboo farming competitor at this stage. The Bamboo Biomass Corporation have launched a similar based bamboo farming initiative which services the alternative energy market in charcoal biomass but at this stage they have only just started planting. They continue with presentations to farmers nationally as a new farming medium. Other farmers, however, do not have the experience to manufacture Bamboo into a finished product. There are also other Bamboo importers who source known products from supplier's catalogues. I also research and develop new products but mostly I am committed to bringing this technology back to South Africa and to locally produce and develop these products. Customers know the benefits of bamboo. It's aesthetically pleasing, can be used as garden screening and trellises, patio ceilings, wall cladding, plywood and for 'proudly South African appeal' . My preference is to be totally organic and manufacture all the above products locally rather than import from China. Already Architects specify our bamboo flooring, panelling and other cladding. Brightfields introduced bamboo as a garden range 5 years ago and the market knows us for our bamboo fences, trellises and poles. I now intend to introduce bamboo as low cost housing material produced locally.

Q. Describe in practical terms how you promote and sell your product or service. Give some indication of the sales trend and explain who does the selling and what methods they use.

GD - Our basic infrastructure of Bamboo as a garden range has been promoted through our website, advertising in Home renovation magazines, brochures and sales through nurseries and major hardware and chain stores with garden departments. All our products are clearly labelled, merchandised and overseen by our sales representative. We also employ the services of a marketing company that promotes our range of interior bamboo products, flooring, cladding and boards to the architects, project managers, quantity surveyors, interior designers and decorators. Once contact has been made we follow up on all inquiries. Architects are particularly receptive to Bamboo as a sustainable product and an alternative to wood. Sales have grown over the last 5 years as people have become more familiar with the applications that bamboo offers. Commercial farming of bamboo gives me the raw material locally to continue selling our products through our existing outlets without having to import. The listing of our bamboo products on portals such as Ali Baba also generates export inquiries on a daily basis. The selling of carbon credits also remains a strong possibility. Raising awareness of Bamboo through presentations and trade shows remains the strongest medium although our website and google ads probably account for 80%of inquiries.

Q. Is there any research or initial sales or any other indication that your product or service will actually appeal to customers? (100 words maximum)

GD - Bamboo is one of the oldest species of Grasses on earth. In Asian culture Bamboo is revered as sacred. Everything from housing, gardening, mats, cookware, utensils to scaffolding is testament to this amazing plant. People are generally fascinated by the characteristics of bamboo. It is the fastest growing plant on earth growing up to a metre a day. It is stronger than steel in weight to strength ratio and withstands hurricanes. Bamboo used outdoors softens ugly boundary walls and weathers well. It is ideal for ceilings, cladding and flooring options. Solid Bamboo Flooring, boards and kitchen tops have become a popular alternative to hardwoods.

Q. What are the five main operational aspects of your business that need to be effectively managed for the business to succeed, and how will you address each one?

GD - Operating plan: Location of property, soil ph, good drainage, moderate temperatures and reasonable rainfall. Operational focus: Proximity, within 2-3 hours from major city to service the existing business successfully and to lessen the carbon footprint of excessive transport costs .No soil preparation required. Bamboo can grow in a variety of soils, loamy, sandy and fertile soils. Grass/weeds grow first after the land is cleared. Bamboo is giant grass Operating plan : Planting, labour ,tools tractor and trailer Operational focus : Planting approx. 5m apart and in rows 10m apart in good drainage and cleared land. Stakes to be used to support the young plants. Compost before planting, water regularly and mulch. Holes can be dug by hand or by a Bobcat trench digger.10m rows apart to allow vehicle access once harvesting begins.

Operating plan: Irrigitation, pumping rights or/and dam Operational focus : A portable water truck is all that is required. Irrigation is recommended for young plants up to 5 months. Bamboo plants can then manage on their own requiring little supervision thereafter. Bamboo is mostly drought resistant, however irrigation from a river or dam is an added benefit for the first year.

Operating plan: Harvesting. A Tractor and trailer for farm transport and harvesting.

Operational focus: Harvesting is done after 2-3 years, collecting young culms for drying and processing into stakes for fence making. This process will continue into second year as only new culms will be harvested. Older culms will thicken so that plank making, plywood and cladding being the next process can now begin. Operating plan: Factory set up Operational focus: A 1000/1500sqm factory consisting of a prefabricated warehouse with sliding doors to allow ample ventilation a bamboo drying room and kiln. Machinery for cutting, splitting, planning and Board pressing. Fence making area and general storage and warehouse space. Tables for assembling processes finished slats into cladding, plywood and board.

Q. Explain how your product or service is likely to create a significant number of new full-time employment opportunities locally, regionally or nationally -- minimum 20 new jobs.

GD - Bamboo plants require a minimum of 2-3 years to reach a certain maturity before harvesting can begin. Initially this Bamboo farm will require a minimum of 20 people to manage the planting and harvesting. After 4years another 20 people can be employed. Simple digging of holes with organic compost to plant one Bamboo Culm. A 150 hectare farm would be the ideal size to support our business. Planting season after the rains (September to March). Planting will be done over 3 years. The first year 50 hectares are planted with approx 12500 plants or 2000 a month for 6 months. After 3 years the first year crop is ready for harvesting. A factory facility of approx 1000/1500sqm is ready to be built to allow the processing of these 3 year old Bamboo culms. Cutting tables, fence making machines, different splitting planning and thicknesses machines must now be set up to accommodate employment of another 30 people to manage the whole operation. Now that the whole farm is under full cultivation the 20 planting labourers will continue with the harvesting to support the additional 20 new jobs in the processing factory. Another 5 new jobs can be created by management and administration.