Nneile Nkholise on leading South Africa’s prosthetic industry

Nneile Nkholise on leading South Africa’s prosthetic industry
4 min read

At just 27, Nneile Sandra Alexandrina Nkholise is founder and director of iMED Tech Group, a South African company which uses Additive Manufacturing (AM) to design breast and facial prostheses for cancer and burn victims. Her company only employs African women under the age of 30 with research backgrounds in mechanical engineering.

Nneile Nkholise

Nneile Nkholise

Nneile was born in Roma, Lesotho and grew up in Thaba Nchu, South Africa.

“I was raised by a single parent being my mom. I am a firm believer in the omnipotent God, and I believe in love and everything in between that makes life worth living blissfully. I’m a mechanical engineer by profession, a sport activist by passion and a social entrepreneur by devotion.”

She had her primary school education at Tlotlanang Combined School in South Africa, which paved her path into innovation, entrepreneurship and understanding African renaissance and African development.

“At primary school, I loved participating in science fairs because I loved innovation and designing new things.”

Post primary school, Nneile attended high school at Mariasdal High School and went on to pursue a Bachelor of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering at Central University of Technology, both in South Africa. She is currently completing her Master’s degree program in Mechanical Engineering at Central University of Technology, with her research focus on the applications of additive manufacturing in fabricating medical prosthesis.

Nneile Nkholise

Nneile has been recognized as Africa’s top female innovator by the 2016 World Economic Forum on Africa held in Rwanda. She was among five winners from Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda who were selected from the Forum’s challenge to find Africa’s top women’s innovation.

Nneile Nkholise (middle) with members of the South African delegation who attended the 2016 World Economic Forum on Africa in Rwanda. (Photo Source: Bloemfontein Courant)

Nneile is also one of Tony Elumelu Foundation’s top 1000 entrepreneurs in Africa, which recognizes social entrepreneurs leading impactful social ventures. She has also been selected as a top entrepreneur to represent her country at the 2016 Global Entrepreneurship Summit in San Francisco, USA.

  • What motivated you to study mechanical engineering?

“My mom insisted that I should study mechanical engineering at first, but with time, I realized that my motivation to stay was the endless opportunities there were in engineering.”

  • Tell us about iMed Tech. What inspired this?

“iMed Tech was birthed from my master’s research on the application of additive manufacturing for the fabrication of external maxillofacial prostheses. I realized how the demand for prostheses is so high while the current methods for manufacturing them couldn’t meet these demands. Hence, I decided to start a company to meet this challenge. I believe that there is a huge gap between academics and business because many of our research findings are never exposed for commercialization. I saw the need to take my research findings to the market.”

  • It is interesting to know iMed Tech hires young female mechanical engineers only. Can you tell us why you insist on this and how it has been of benefit to the company and what you do as a whole?

“I believe that the biggest development of the 4th Industrial Revolution is going to be led by women and it is important that we empower them and give them endless opportunities so that they can be skilled enough to push Africa forward.”

Nneile Nkholise

  • You were selected as Africa’s top innovator by the 2016 World Economic Forum on Africa in Rwanda. How did that make you feel?

“I felt that I had finally created a footprint of my work for the continental and global landscape. It was great to be rewarded for my good work.”

  • What is the prosthetics industry in South Africa like? Has there been any significant growth? And is it here to stay?

“The industry is growing at a slow pace. We need to start fast-tracking processes of making prostheses accessible to people all over South Africa.”

  • What do you suggest can be done to help advance the industry in Africa?

“We first need to educate people on prosthetic rehabilitation and also the processes of using additive manufacturing to manufacture them.”

  • What excites you most about what you do?

“The ability to change people’s lives for the better. The ability to make someone feel good.”