Hundreds of students gathered at the Kenyatta University Amphitheatre and Nairobi School Chapel to listen to a talk on the future of innovation presented by Siyabulela Xuza, South Africa’s youngest innovator.
The 27-year-old graduate of Harvard University invented his own rocket fuel by the age of 15 and has a planet named after him by Nasa (Siyaxuza).
He is presently the youngest member of Africa 2.0’s Energy advisory council, a pan-African committee that is looking to create a framework for Africa’s energy resources.
He is also the founder and managing director of Galactic Energy Ventures, a smart energy solutions company. His current project is focused on developing a sustainable model for energy storage based on micro fuel cells. This technology stores energy for much longer and could potentially replace the batteries in all the modern mobile gadgets.
Speaking about innovation to the eager students at Kenyatta University, Siya deflated the myth that money is a prerequisite for innovation. “I had no resources when I started out. I was a kid born of a single mother with very limited resources in a small village called Mthatha in South Africa. But I had a big dream-to go to Jupiter and lots of passion,” he said.
“So I thought of making rocket fuel to get there. I began experimenting with fuels in my mother’s kitchen. This passion turned into a serious science project that culminated in developing a cheaper and safer rocket fuel.”
Siya’s science project won a gold award at the National Science Expo and the Dr DerekGray Memorial award for the most prestigious project in South Africa.
He was then invited to the International Youth Science Fair in Sweden in 2006, where he presented his project to the King and Queen of Sweden and attended the Nobel prize ceremony in Stockholm.
His project was then entered into the world’s biggest student science event, attracting about 1,500 students from 52 countries — the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in the US.
He won the two grand awards and Nasa-affiliated Lincoln Laboratory was so impressed by the young engineer’s achievement that it named a minor planet after him. Planet 23182, discovered in 2000, is now known as Siyaxuza.
His message to the students is that his story could be anyone’s story in Kenya and that innovation is not rocket science. It is simplicity. Africans are equally capable of global innovation and excellence no matter what the rest of the world thinks and Kenya has already proven that with ingenious innovations like Mpesa.
Siya was in Kenya courtesy of Total. As the company’s brand ambassador, he travels around the continent giving inspiring and energising talks to students about his amazing journey from a little village to being one of the leading lights in the future of Africa’s energy sector.
At the Nairobi School Chapel, Siya gave a motivational talk that left form one to three students not only in awe of the young man, but also enthused to be the best they can ever be without giving up.
Inspired by his presentation, Nairobi School students asked numerous questions that would motivate them towards achieving their goals. Siya encouraged the students to use their skills and energy towards new innovations that would help them lift Africa and its people regardless of their chosen profession.
As a final challenge to the students, Siya said, “Find your own Jupiters. All you have to do is to take a step back from the daily pressures and THINK. This is when you become most innovative. There are opportunities here, as long as you are bold and brave enough to take them.”
“The biggest thing that holds young people back is fear. You will fail many times, but if you keep at it, one day you will get your break. I finally succeeded in making rocket fuel after 77 attempts.”