Nonhlanhla Mhlongo calls herself a hustlepreneur, innovator, ideator, and climate action activist. The 30-year-old Pretoria woman has been given the foundation she needs to turn her big idea – biodegradable, 2-in-1, glove-like hand sanitiser – into a thriving business, after completing a course through the USA-based Academy for Women Entrepreneurs (AWE).
AWE gives enterprising women the knowledge, networks and access they need to launch and scale successful businesses. Working in more than 100 countries, AWE drives localised prosperity in communities around the world.
Nonhlanhla was raised in Sankontshe in rural KwaZulu-Natal, in the southeast of Cato Ridge.
“Growing up in this vibrant environment deeply influenced my perspective and nurtured my resilience,” she says. It was these roots that fostered the joy she derives from identifying societal and environmental challenges, and led to her invention of the sanitiser glove while working as a maths teacher in 2020, when Covid-19 struck.
“I realised that the five minutes spent sanitising the kids and desks was taking away valuable teaching and learning time. It was then that I decided to address this issue by creating a product that would provide longer-lasting protection,” she explains. “It soon became evident to me that as an innovator, being an entrepreneur is essential to bringing ideas to life as tangible products.”
The go-getter heard about the AWE programme from a friend ‘who believed in me and thought the programme would be an ideal fit for my business’. “I applied to join the class of 2023 and was accepted. As part of the programme, I had the opportunity to pitch my business idea and underwent a transformative learning experience. I am proud to share that I graduated from the programme in October 2023, equipped with valuable insights and skills that will undoubtedly contribute to the growth of my business and provide the exposure I need.”
She says AWE does wonderful work by providing enterprising women with the knowledge, networks, and access necessary to launch and scale successful businesses. “Through AWE, I achieved significant milestones that have contributed to my entrepreneurial journey. The programme provided me with a no-cost entry, granting access to the DreamBuilder online platform and expert-facilitated virtual business management training and mentorship sessions. Engaging with like-minded entrepreneurs allowed for valuable networking and peer-learning opportunities.
“With other programme participants, I collaboratively developed and refined a comprehensive draft of my business plan. The completion of the programme was acknowledged with both a DreamBuilder certificate and a certificate of training by AWE.”
She says her AWE attendance was facilitated through a hybrid format, conducted both at the American Spaces in Pretoria and virtually. American Spaces are open-access learning and gathering places around the world that promote interaction among local audiences and the United States. “This arrangement allowed for a dynamic learning experience that combined in-person interactions and the flexibility of virtual participation.”
In late 2020, Khwezi Innovations was started to develop the glove and other innovations. The glove, she explains, serves a dual purpose by effectively sanitising and protecting for a full hour. “What sets it apart is its unique peelable feature, allowing users to easily remove the glove when it’s no longer needed. The biodegradable nature of the glove ensures that it dissolves completely in water within a few minutes, leaving no waste behind.
This innovative solution not only addresses the need for extended hand protection but also aligns with sustainability goals, offering a practical and eco-friendly alternative to traditional hand-sanitising methods.” She says the product has achieved significant milestones to date, including a technical feasibility study that was conducted with the support of Nelson Mandela University. The study was funded by the Technology Innovation Agency, an entity of the Department of Science and Innovation.”
Nonhlanhla was also part of the Biodiversity Partners acceleration and learning programme, which was also instrumental in advancing the development of the glove sanitiser. Another innovative initiative Nonhlanhla is co-founding is Pat-Safety, which revolves around the creation of disposable safety wipes specifically designed for public toilets. “These 100% biodegradable wipes aim to address and reduce the risk of infections.”
Inspirational support team
“Witnessing the potential for positive change and contributing to a sustainable future are what inspire me, but my supportive mother and daughter who are the driving forces behind my hustles and the foundation of my motivation to build a lasting legacy.” Nonhlanhla says her single mother remains her biggest supporter and source of strength.
Raised primarily by her grandmother in her younger years, because her mother worked in Pretoria, Nonhlanhla attended three different high schools. “After the loss of my grandmother, I moved to Port Shepstone to stay with my uncle’s wife. However, due to living circumstances, I eventually decided to join my mother in Pretoria. That’s where I completed my high school education, from grades 10 to 12. Each school played a unique role in shaping my experiences and contributing to the person I am. “The dynamics of my upbringing instilled in me a sense of resilience and resourcefulness, qualities that continue to influence my approach to life.
“Additionally, my motivation to hustle and make a positive impact extends to my six-year-old daughter, Khwezi, whose name means the ‘bright morning star’. In fact, I named my company after her, symbolising the inspiration she brings to my journey.” Nonhlanhla advises entrepreneurs to embrace passion, self-belief, and continuous learning.
“Building a supportive network, viewing failure as a growth opportunity, and taking calculated risks are crucial aspects of the entrepreneurial journey.
“Resilience, giving back to the community, and staying true to one’s values are key principles for success.”