South Africa’s leading entrepreneur of 2017 revealed


Creating, growing and innovating a business to such a degree that a new market and industry is created is no easy feat and demonstrates many qualities of a remarkable entrepreneur.  It is thereby no surprise that Willem van der Merwe, of Africa Biomass Company (ABC) has been named this year’s overall winner in the 2017 Entrepreneur of the Year® competition sponsored by Sanlam and BUSINESS/PARTNERS, as announced at the awards ceremony held in Johannesburg on 6 September 2017.

Not only did van der Merwe capitalise on a gap in a market, he also innovated in such a way that he was able to earn additional revenue for a service he was originally being paid for.

ABC are the country’s leading experts in land clearing, wood chipping, and wood recycling. The business revolves around the novel concept of grinding up unwanted trees on site, with the use of wood chipper machines, in order to create biomass – a renewable source of fuel to produce energy. This biomass is then either sold back to the site owner or onto a secondary market, thereby essentially generating value from waste wood.

This resourcefulness stood out to the judging panel. “Willem is supplying an excellent service – that of removing unwanted trees – however, he has taken this idea one step further by creating something useful out of these trees. He is therefore not only getting paid to supply a removal service, but is also able to capitalise on that service by reselling what he has removed. This is true entrepreneurship.”

What further set van der Merwe apart from other finalists is that the existence and success of ABC are based solely on innovation, remarked one of the competition judges. After studying what was being done in other, more developed countries, van der Merwe introduced the idea of wood recycling to South Africa, starting it from scratch and essentially creating a brand new industry. Having patented and built over five machines designed specifically for wood waste, ABC remains the only company in South Africa that specialises in this service.

On being named this year’s Entrepreneur of the Year®, van der Merwe says that he is both humbled by and grateful for the opportunity. “It is always so great to learn from other entrepreneurs, so to have the opportunity to network with others in a similar position to our business has been a wonderful experience.”

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