Firm: Algorhythm (Private) Limited
Main Product: The Gwatamatic, a digital culinary rig
Location: Harare, Zimbabwe
Business Sector: Culinary engineering
Activities: Design and marketing innovative culinary hardware and software
Business model: A virtual company focusing on development and protection of intellectual property. Manufacturing is devolved among several sub-contractors.
In Zimbabwe, a country of 12 million people, an estimated four million man hours are expended everyday cooking sadza, the staple food.. Considering the repetitive nature of most types of cooking, devices that partially or wholly automate cooking could contribute to significant productivity gains.
How it all Began
The Gwatamatic, a fully automatic digital cooking apparatus, started as an idea in the summer of 1985. The inventor, William Gwata, was a biochemistry student at the University of Surrey, UK on professional training attachment at the Frimley Park Hospital laboratory. At university they were trained in a manual chemistry laboratory where they fiddled around with test tubes. In contrast, at the hospital laboratory there were no test tubes . All the samples were loaded into automated analyzers producing a printed result. Apart from labor saving, the automated analyzer machines (particularly the Roche Cobas Bio) were impressive in another way, namely consistency. For example if they measured the calcium level of one sample repeatedly, the machine gave the same result consistently for as long as the sample had not deteriorated.
Mr Gwata studied this more deeply and realized that consistency was due to electronic discipline. The instructions which ran the machine were stored in its computer memory. So the process always ran exactly the same each time regardless of who pressed the start button.
Consistency was a problem in cookery too. The quality of sadza (the staple food of Southern Africa) in particular often varied with the mood of the cook.
The Gwatamatic prototype was developed in 1996 and in July 1997 the first pot of sadza came out and the stage was set for commercialization However Mr. Gwata realized that it was important to protect his invention before proceeding any further. Thus he retained a firm of lawyers to assist him file a patent to protect the invention.
The major claim of his patent is a practical method of cooking based on a unique integration of hardware, software and philosophy. The hardware unifies various engineering disciplines including mechanical, chemical, electrical, electronic and civil engineering. The software orchestrates the various pieces of hardware to implement the desired recipe. The over-arching philosophy around which both the hardware and software converge is taking human judgment out of the cooking process to enhance consistency.
Consistency is the holy grail of many business marketing strategies. If customers know what to expect and get that consistently, the brand concerned is strengthened.
After patenting the apparatus the first commercial Gwatamatic rig had a successful maiden run on 13 December 1997.
Intellectual Property Rights
The following intellectual property rights were granted:
Granted on 25 October 2000 by the African Regional Industrial Property Organization:
No. AP/P/98/01364 having effect in Zimbabwe, Zambia, Uganda, Swaziland, Sudan, Malawi, Lesotho, Kenya, Ghana, Gambia and Botswana
Granted on 26 May 1999 by the South African Patent Office:
No. 98/9224 having effect in South Africa
Trade Marks and branding strategy
While the business of Algorhythm is predominantly based on the Gwatamatic cooking apparatus for now, more product lines are expected to come on stream in due course. Each product line is expected to have its own brand identity. The Gwatamatic is only the first one. The name Gwatamatic itself started as a joke. While Mr. Gwata was working on the prototype he told a friend about it, at which the friend retorted, what are you going to call it then, the Gwatamatic?! It was quite a funny name at the time and they all laughed. As Mr. Gwata thought more and more of that name, he realized that it was quite catchy not least because it rhymes with a certain stage in sadza cooking called “kukwata”. So it was adopted and registered as a brand name. The trademark and the name of Gwatamatic were granted by the Registrar of Trademarks, Harare, Zimbabwe:
- No. 733/2001: Algorhythm logo
- No. 734/2001: The name Gwatamatic
Mr. Gwata strongly believes that contrary to popular belief, funding is hardly the biggest constraint confronting entrepreneurs. The quality of the business idea is more the issue. That is if the quality of the intellectual property is compelling enough, funding is bound to be found.
However the quality of the intellectual property has to be communicated. One way is by demonstrating the idea in a prototype. The Gwatamatic prototype was too rustic to catch the eye of investors. It was only a full scale commercial installation that eventually did it.
Up to that point Mr. Gwata had to rely on his own personal savings.
Friends, family and a venture capital company invested in Algorhythm (Private) Limited after they tasted actual sadza from the first commercial Gwatamatic rig.
A careful choice of business model considerably reduced the capital requirements for Algorhythm Pvt Ltd. When he founded the company, Mr. Gwata could not afford even a drill press. Fortunately round about the same time a copy of the Harvard Business Review crossed his desk. The magazine had a feature on virtual companies using IBM as a case study. In a nutshell it said that IBM made PCs yet there was no building which could be called the IBM PC factory. All IBM did was design the PC they wanted and then outsource the manufacture of components. He recognized that as the business model he needed.
Business Model based on Intellectual Property as the main asset of the company
In a nutshell, a virtual business model is a philosophy that focuses on intellectual property development and outsources the manufacturing and other business functions. It is a typical incarnation of the knowledge-based economy. It recognizes that ideas, and not means of production, are the predominant constraint in the global economy today. For example, if an innovator has got an idea for a new revolutionary computer, they draw up the overall design. Then they list the required components and “farm out” contracts to supply the components. They may for instance sub-contract someone in Taiwan to make the mouse, someone in Holland to make the screen, someone in California to make the processor etc. All components are ultimately delivered to a central assembly place. After assembly they then fix a sticker of their brand on the computer and sell it.
With time the financial fortunes of Algorhythm improved but it remained pointless investing in factory equipment because the virtual model continued to work well.
In essence, therefore, the main asset owned by Algorhythm Pvt Ltd is intellectual property in the form of engineering designs, both hardware and software designs. Manufacturing is devolved among several sub-contractors. The overall policy is for Algorhythm to be the only entity with the full “set of keys”. All subcontractors only get technical drawings relevant to the components they are making. This helps improve the security of the intellectual property. For example the company that does the steel cutting gets instructions on where to cut, drill
and bend plates of steel. That is all they do then they pass the cut steel on to another company that does the welding. All partnerships are standard arms-length engineering supply contracts that start and end with a purchase order. While there are no formal licenses, good working relationships have evolved over the years.
Approach to secure funding and role or public institutions in the country
The second most formidable barrier that would-be entrepreneurs often have to face is discouragement. Without enough fortitude on the part of the entrepreneur, discouragement could scupper an otherwise viable project. On the road to the Gwatamatic, some seasoned engineers told Mr. Gwata it could not be done! Fortunately he also had encouragement from other quarters that more than counterbalanced this barrier. Mr. Gwata sees a silver lining in this barrier. It implies that innovative ideas are essentially not obvious to everybody. It they were too obvious, they would have been taken by someone else long before.
In the early days of the business, funding was obtained through selling shares to friends, family and a venture capital company. The shares issued to the venture capital company have since been bought back. Now the main source of funding is progress payments on supply contracts. It takes around twelve weeks to complete and install a batch of Gwatamatic machines. (That time has now increased with the shortages and other problems bedeviling the Zimbabwe economy today). Progress payments are payable by the customer at different stages of the supply cycle.
Government SME support institutions were not too helpful. It appeared they were either under-funded or disorganized or both. In contrast the IP office in the Ministry of Justice
was very helpful, so was the Africa Regional Industrial Property Organization (ARIPO).
The Gwatamatic – main features
The Gwatamatic 2000 is a revolutionary automatic machine for cooking large quantities of sadza(the staple food of most of Sub-Saharan Africa) to a professional standard consistently. It is patented technology indigenous to Zimbabwe. It is the only one of its kind in the world.
The Gwatamatic 2000 offers several advantages over the manual method of cooking sadza, which include:
- Quality – the product is guaranteed lump free and thoroughly gelatinized.
- Consistency - the entire recipe is stored in digital code. So the same high professional quality is reproduced at the push of a button. Its overriding philosophy is to effectively take human judgment out of sadza cooking.
- Convenience – large quantities of sadza can be made fast without compromising quality. Because the machine is automatic, only one operator is required.
- Hygiene – the machine operates as a closed system from start to finish. Furthermore its wet components are deliberately designed to facilitate easy washing.
- Capacity - enough sadza to feed between 200 and 700 people can be made in 45 minutes. A household size model to feed between 2 and 10 people is expected in due course.
- Savings – because the machine operates as a closed system, loss of steam is minimal, which translates to energy savings.
Capacity: up to 400 litres
Standard cooking cycle time: 45 minutes
Power consumption: - impeller at porridge stage: 1.4kW
- impeller at terminal stage: 3kW
- heater maximum (3 phase): 18kW
- steam can be used in lieu of electric heating
- meal feeder: 0.35kW
Meal quality - able to use all types of maize meal
Trade Enquiries: Algorhythm Pvt Ltd
P O Box WGT488
The development of the Gwatamatic has opened the door to the possibility of digitizing all culinary recipes known to man and more. All cookery recipes are probably related members of a single ordered system. Cookery could be transformed from a haphazard hit-or-miss art into a precise logical science. That way when you go to a bookshop you won’t buy a recipe book but a CD. The protocols on the CD can then be run on a universal cooking apparatus which prepares any dish of your choice without need for human judgment or skill. The Gwatamatic already does this but for sadza only.
Just like in the computer industry, culinary hardware and software are expected to evolve into separate business entities. So in the long term it is expected to split the business of Algorhythm into hardware and software divisions.
Sadza is a staple food from the Sahara all the way to Cape Town, making a potential market of almost half a billion people. So exports are likely to provide significant long term growth of the business. For now the costs of establishing a presence abroad remain a significant barrier.