Interviews

Interview With SA Nuclear Scientist Turned Entrepreneur, Nomso Kana

Interview With SA Nuclear Scientist Turned Entrepreneur, Nomso Kana. Nomso Kana, founder of Simsciex Technologies is a renowned nuclear scientist and a leader in energy, policy, and broadband infrastructure. We believe Nomso’s inspiring story and her expertise on broadband access, 4IR and nuclear make her a compelling voice in the industry. This is why we recently had a chat with her to discuss issues in science and technology including the state of broadband infrasture, her story from rural Eastern Cape to a formidable woman in science and the journey of building Simsciex Technologies from the ground up.

Contents
What inspired your transition from a career in nuclear science to founding Simsciex Technologies in the ICT sector?How did your upbringing in a rural village and your early fascination with science and technology shape your career path?What were some of the biggest challenges you faced when starting Simsciex Technologies, and how did you overcome them?Can you tell us about your first major project, deploying fiber for the City of Johannesburg, and what you learned from that experience?You mentioned the dream of providing high-speed internet to rural areas. What are some of the specific challenges in achieving this, and how is Simsciex addressing them?How do you think improved internet connectivity will impact rural communities in South Africa and across Africa?What are some of the key technological innovations Simsciex has developed to improve broadband infrastructure?Could you elaborate on the range of services Simsciex offers, from broadband infrastructure to IT support and training?How has your role as a Presidential Commissioner for the Fourth Industrial Revolution influenced your work and vision at Simsciex?Can you explain how improved broadband connectivity can drive economic growth, citing examples like Kenya’s GDP increase?What are Simsciex’s plans for expanding into other African countries, starting with Tanzania?How do you navigate the monopolized ecosystem of broadband infrastructure to secure projects and grow your business?What are your long-term goals for Simsciex Technologies, both in terms of business growth and social impact?What personal motivations and inspirations drive you in your mission to break barriers and advance gender equity in technology fields? By Thomas Chiothamisi

What inspired your transition from a career in nuclear science to founding Simsciex Technologies in the ICT sector?

In 2011, I entered the nuclear field while working in a Medical Biology Science Lab. I participated in several national projects as a medical biology scientist, analyzing human fluids. The nuclear industry soon recruited me due to my strong background in the sciences, holistically. This made it easy for me to transition into nuclear work, undergo training, and fully immerse myself in the field. I later transitioned into the broadband and ICT space because I saw the need for analytical thinking in improving connectivity in South Africa and Southern Africa. I became an ICT entrepreneur, focusing specifically on broadband infrastructure to solve connectivity issues and ensure affordable access for people.

The inspiration to start Simsciex Technologies came while I was still in the lab. One day, I had to move confidential reports between buildings, a distance of about a kilometer. I realized that having high-speed broadband on campus would enhance our work and make it faster. That’s when I decided to delve into broadband access, and the rest is history. In my belief, the convergence of nuclear energy – existence of baseline energy source, ICT, and the Fourth Industrial Revolution is inextricably linked to the notion that human life must adapt as technology advances, given that we are both the creators and consumers of these innovations.

How did your upbringing in a rural village and your early fascination with science and technology shape your career path?

I became fascinated by science after watching Star Wars. It sparked my interest in spaceships and teleportation, even though I knew little about them at the time. Growing up in a rural village, I saw how limited access to technology could hold people back. This sparked my fascination with science and technology, as I believed they could change lives. My parents, both teachers, nurtured my interest in math and science, encouraging me to dream big. This support led me to a career in nuclear science and eventually into entrepreneurship. Experiencing firsthand the struggles with connectivity in my village made me passionate about improving internet access in underserved areas. My upbringing gave me a deep understanding of the challenges and motivated me to use technology to bridge those gaps and make a real difference in people’s lives.

What were some of the biggest challenges you faced when starting Simsciex Technologies, and how did you overcome them?

When I launched the company in 2014, I was still working full-time in the lab, which presented significant challenges. Balancing a demanding job with the needs of a fledgling business was difficult, and it quickly became clear that I couldn’t give both the attention they required. The business began to suffer, so in 2017, I made the leap to focus on it full-time. This transition brought new challenges, particularly financial ones, as I had to ensure there was enough money to pay myself and my employees. Another major hurdle was navigating a highly monopolized ecosystem to secure our first job. Our breakthrough came when we won a contract to deploy fiber in the city of Johannesburg, during a time when there was a high demand for fiber-to-the-home installations. This project taught us many valuable lessons and marked an important milestone for our company.

Can you tell us about your first major project, deploying fiber for the City of Johannesburg, and what you learned from that experience?

Our first major project was deploying fiber for the City of Johannesburg. At the time, there was a big push to bring fiber-to-the-home, and we were one of the small companies selected to help make that happen. This project was a significant milestone for us. It not only validated our capabilities but also provided us with invaluable hands-on experience. We learned a lot about project management, dealing with unexpected challenges, and the importance of meticulous planning. We also had to navigate the complexities of working within a monopolized industry, which required smart maneuvering and strategic thinking to secure the job in the first place. The experience taught us the importance of resilience and adaptability. We had to be quick on our feet and innovative in our solutions to meet the demands of the project. Overall, it was a transformative experience that set the stage for our future growth and success.

You mentioned the dream of providing high-speed internet to rural areas. What are some of the specific challenges in achieving this, and how is Simsciex addressing them?

The impact Simsciex has had on rural connectivity in South Africa is significant, but challenging due to the country’s vast landscape and the legacy of spatial planning that placed many black communities on the outskirts, scattered across large areas. To connect a village, we need to build a point of presence and a community network, as the distance between houses can be as much as five kilometers. This requires equipment that amplifies speed and signal, which is quite expensive. While we’re making progress, we haven’t reached our goal yet. We are currently focused on quick-to-market solutions like building Wi-Fi to homes using LTE and fixed wireless broadband access. SimSciex Technologies aims to bring unique changes to the internet and broadband infrastructure industry. Our first goal is to develop innovative ways to connect hard-to-reach areas and bring technology to those challenging locations. We also want to ensure that internet consumption is purposeful and that everyone has access, thereby bridging the digital gap. With improved connectivity, people can significantly enhance and accelerate their lives.

How do you think improved internet connectivity will impact rural communities in South Africa and across Africa?

Broadband access is crucial for everyone, including rural communities, because it opens up opportunities for education, healthcare, and economic development. It allows students to access online learning, patients to use telehealth services, and local businesses to reach broader markets. In short, it helps bridge the digital divide, ensuring that everyone has a fair chance to thrive in today’s digital world.

What are some of the key technological innovations Simsciex has developed to improve broadband infrastructure?

To make broadband available to all, including rural communities, we need a multi-faceted approach. At Simsciex, we’re tackling this by developing innovative solutions to connect hard-to-reach areas and playing our part in policy, research and insights. We’re setting up points of presence in villages and townships and have plans of building community networks to bridge the distance between homes, which can be several kilometers apart. Our strategy involves using advanced equipment to amplify speed and signal, ensuring reliable connectivity even in remote locations. This will take years but the work is underway. We’re also implementing quick-to-market solutions like Wi-Fi to the home and leveraging LTE and fixed wireless broadband access. By focusing on affordability and reliability, we aim to provide high-speed internet that enhances education, healthcare, and economic opportunities for rural communities. Our goal is to bridge the digital divide and create a more inclusive, connected future SimSciex has also found a way to truly give people what they want. We’ve focused on making your time on the internet more valuable. Studies by Google and other ICT research companies show that South Africans start their day on Twitter around 5:00 AM and spend an average of five hours on social media. We wanted to innovate around this behavior to make internet use more beneficial.

As an ISP and Fiber Network Operator, we created an over-the-top technology platform that offers strong educational content tailored to lifelong learners. It also includes video on demand, featuring both local and international content. This way, while you’re on Twitter or other social media, you can also access resources that enhance your learning and skills. Our Wi-Fi for homework aims to support young people with their homework and help them develop positive online behaviors. This approach ensures that internet use is not only enjoyable but also enriching and educational. I have a futuristic vision of digitizing rural areas while preserving their natural environment and way of life. In rural areas, people grow their own food and maintain an organic lifestyle. I want to ensure that they can embrace digital technology without losing this. Imagine sitting in Johannesburg and having a seamless video call with your grandmother back home, hearing the same stories she told you when you were young, all while she remains in her natural environment. I envision broadband infrastructure that enhances connectivity without disrupting the environment, providing the same digital experiences available in first-world countries.

Could you elaborate on the range of services Simsciex offers, from broadband infrastructure to IT support and training?

At SimSciex, we offer a wide range of services designed to meet the diverse needs of our clients. Our main focus is on providing reliable broadband access, especially in areas where it’s hard to come by. We build and deploy fiber optic networks and wireless solutions to ensure fast and affordable internet for everyone. Beyond that, we handle project management for all our infrastructure projects, ensuring everything runs smoothly from start to finish. We also specialize in telecoms network security management to protect our clients’ networks from cyber threats.Additionally, we offer comprehensive IT support and training. This includes helping businesses set up their IT systems, providing ongoing support to keep things running efficiently, and training staff to use new technologies effectively. Our goal is to be a one-stop solution for all things related to internet and IT, helping our clients stay connected and secure in today’s digital world.

How has your role as a Presidential Commissioner for the Fourth Industrial Revolution influenced your work and vision at Simsciex?

My role as a Presidential Commissioner for the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) has significantly influenced my work and vision at SimSciex. The 4IR is an era where disruptive technologies converge, merging technology with human, physical, and digital interfaces. This transformation is reshaping industries and the way we operate.When the president formed this panel, I was selected from a pool of approximately 4,886 applicants, with only 33 being chosen. Our mandate was to develop solutions for South Africa to embrace the Fourth Industrial Revolution. One of our primary tasks was to raise awareness and accurately define 4IR, as many people associate it with dystopian visions of robots taking over. This role has broadened my perspective on how technology can be leveraged for societal good and has reinforced my commitment to using SimSciex as a platform for positive change. It has driven me to integrate advanced technologies into our services, ensuring that our solutions not only meet current needs but also anticipate future demands. My work on the panel has highlighted the importance of digital inclusion and the need to prepare our communities for the future. This has directly influenced SimSciex’s mission to enhance internet accessibility, bridge the digital divide, and empower underserved areas with the tools and knowledge to thrive in a rapidly evolving technological landscape.

Can you explain how improved broadband connectivity can drive economic growth, citing examples like Kenya’s GDP increase?

The role of broadband infrastructure in our economy is crucial. Take Kenya as an example. In 2009, they started implementing ICT policies within their government, even before the private sector got involved. This led to a 9% increase in GDP, thanks to the efficiency, innovation, and entrepreneurship that ICT brought into the space. Many young people began to enter the ICT field. We saw the emergence of Mpesa and the rise of FinTech, which was initially driven by a telecom company. While many think of broadband infrastructure simply as a way to access social media, its impact is much broader. It plays a key role in boosting GDP and creating a convergence of various sectors. For instance, in agriculture, connectivity is essential for using IoT to monitor water usage and analyze soil data. However, to support such advanced applications, a robust broadband infrastructure is necessary.

What are Simsciex’s plans for expanding into other African countries, starting with Tanzania?

One critical aspect I highlight is our work in building fiber optic networks and other infrastructure projects that support economic development. For instance, we’re actively exploring and working on projects in South Africa, Tanzania, Zimbabwe and Namibia, collaborating with local partners to build and expand connectivity networks. This work not only boosts local economies but also contributes to the broader goal of integrating African markets.

How do you navigate the monopolized ecosystem of broadband infrastructure to secure projects and grow your business?

Navigating the monopolized ecosystem of broadband infrastructure requires a strategic approach and a lot of perseverance. We tackle it bit by bit, much like eating an elephant. Collaboration is key—we partner with local governments, communities, and other businesses to secure projects and grow. By building strong relationships and demonstrating our value through successful deployments, we gradually make our mark in the industry and expand our reach.

What are your long-term goals for Simsciex Technologies, both in terms of business growth and social impact?

SimSciex Technologies aims to bring unique changes to the internet and broadband infrastructure industry. Our first goal is to develop innovative ways to connect hard-to-reach areas and bring technology to those challenging locations. We also want to ensure that internet consumption is purposeful and that everyone has access, thereby bridging the digital gap. With improved connectivity, people can significantly enhance and accelerate their lives.

What personal motivations and inspirations drive you in your mission to break barriers and advance gender equity in technology fields?

The belief in the importance of what I’m doing keeps me going. High-speed internet access is crucial for development, and my work aims to provide this essential service. The support from my network of friends and colleagues, who share my vision, also helps sustain my motivation. Ultimately, I strive to be a role model and pave the way for other women in this field.

By Thomas Chiothamisi

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