It was an old computer that his mother bought him at the age of 12 that awakened Vincent Van Wyk’s passion for innovation. Twenty-five years later, Van Wyk has built Namibia’s first locally assembled computer and launched his own high tech company.
Van Wyk is breaking barriers and making history while also empowering young people and addressing the issue of the digital divide and the detrimental effects it has in the country and in Africa as whole.
In 2014, the talented father of three, decided to start his own company PEBL, which is also the name of his high-performance, small form-factor (11.8cm x 11.8cm) computer with glass-top panels crafted from African sand.
The computer uses less than 10 percent of the power consumption of traditional desktop PCs while it has the power and performance of bigger desktop computers in a much more compact design.
It is so small that it can be mounted to the rear of a monitor while it is powered by an Intel chip and comes in a range of component options at different prices.
Van Wyk’s dream is to give an opportunity to all young people to have equal access to technology no matter their circumstances.
“With local innovation you can create a future for all Namibians, a future which young inventors are contributing to economic growth,” he said.
At the age of 12, his mother bought him an old computer which was his gateway to a whole new world of technology.
Working with that computer, opened his eyes to possibilities and opportunities that he would have never dreamed of without it.
“That computer changed my life. I cannot remember how many times I broke it apart and fixed it. The computer and all of its components taught me so many skills; it empowered me to know exactly what I wanted to do with my life,” he said.
When the internet took off, Van Wyk’s interest in computer hardware grew even further.
“Around this time, I could tell that the sky was the limit because the internet connected me to the rest of the world, birthing my dream,” he said.
As he got older, even without formal training, the little knowledge he had for computers opened many doors for him as he received several scholarships to study abroad just after finishing high school in 1996.
In 1997, Van Wyk went to Norway to pursue a Diploma in International Baccalaureate.
From there, he went to South Africa to study for a Bachelor of Science degree at the University of Port Elizabeth. Thereafter, he came back to Namibia to join the Air Force where he initially chose to train as a pilot, but later decided to train as an engineer.
“I was more interested in knowing how planes were made and not in flying them, so I decided to train in engineering at the Namibia Air Force School of Airpower Studies,” he said.
Van Wyk has been in the Air Force for the past 18 years.
“At PEBL, we are creating a global brand that speaks to all Africans and the globe,” Van Wyk said.
Just recently, the young company signed an investment deal with Greentec Capital Partners; a German Investment firm after PEBL crossed the N$1 million revenue barrier.
“I started putting all this together in my garage. When I started, it was not about the money, we want to teach young people with a passion for innovation for them to grow their skills, for me it is all about the young ones,” he said.
The company buys components from China and builds the computers locally.
Currently, PEBL sells about 100 units per month, but the target is to sell 1,000, a dream that Van Wyk said will soon come true.
“We have been selling directly to corporates and individuals, but we are currently in talks with government to start supplying them,” he said.
Van Wyk was raised by a single mother who is his biggest inspiration.
“She gave me a chance to dream bigger than my circumstances. She believed in me from the beginning, I am grateful for her,” he said.
Speaking in the National Assembly this week after hearing about Van Wyk’s achievements and dreams, Minister of Higher Education, Training and Innovation, Dr Itah Kandjii-Murangi, commended the computer genius.
She said Van Wyk was one of many talented Namibians endowed with great skills that are sorely needed. She urged all to lend support to these creative citizens.
“We must identify these young people and create opportunities to propel them. We need to find ways to make sure innovation takes center stage in our education system,” Kandjii-Murangi said.
Minister of Information and Communication Technology, Stanley Simataa, suggested that the country develop a database of all innovations and inventions.
“There are a lot of innovations; the time has come for an audit for us to appreciate what we have. We need to value what we innovate. We must nurture the appetite for creativity and discovery that our young people have,” he said.
PEBL works with young people who have a passion for innovation.
“As Africans, in terms of exposure to technology, we are not that lucky. Statistics show that there are three computers for every 1,000 people. Africa is falling further behind the rest of the world. We must create opportunities for ourselves, go out there and make a difference,” Van Wyk said.
He said PEBL has been the toughest thing he has ever done, but also the most vibrant as its main purpose is to create an African global brand and product.
“Despite the rising popularity of entrepreneurship in Namibia and Africa, being a startup brings its own unique set of challenges and problems that must be addressed; Innovation culture in Namibia is still in its infancy.
“Challenges include financing, as most potential investors are conservative investors that look at products like real estate,” he said.