PEBL: Building an advanced African culture
20 October 2021 | Technology
Vincent van Wyk, PEBL founder and CEO: “We aren’t building gadgets. We are building a business that will change the perception of African tech, and contribute to economies across Africa.”
Wakanda. A fictional Afro-futuristic country where rich resources - both human and natural - coupled with inward investment and a do-it-for-themselves attitude made for not only a bad-ass brother in an exco-suit straight from the ancestors, but also a vision for advanced African states, where home-grown technologies empower communities and provide solutions to our uniquely African issues.
This may be fiction, but it has added fuel to the burning need for local innovation that will change the way Africa’s real-world Vibranium, its demographic dividend, capitalizes on the opportunities presented by the Fourth Industrial revolution.
Now, PEBL, the brainchild of Namibian Air Force senior officer, policy advocate and tech entrepreneur Vincent van Wyk is changing the way we see, work and innovate with local tech.
“We aren’t building gadgets. We are building a business that will change the perception of African tech, and contribute to economies across Africa as we aim to create localized hardware - and software - solutions for the connected economies throughout the continent,” Van Wyk said.
“And we’re going to leverage localized skills, talent and tenacity to achieve this,” he added, while a designer in the background runs the complex AutoCAD design processes of their next innovation on a GENIO, their latest generation small-factor PC, which boots up in about five seconds and uses about 15 times less electricity than the tower PC currently next to you.
“Imagine what impact that has on your bottom line, and more importantly the environment,” Van Wyk said.
PEBL is the first Pan-African computer brand developed and assembled in Africa. The company’s ethos is to deliver versatile, energy-efficient and quality computer hardware and software solutions which offer an integrated user-experience, providing seamless contemporary convenience for the modern, digitally savvy African consumer.
“Trends in the technology markets show that users do not only want innovative and high-performance products, but also products that look good, feel good and complement their environments,” Gareth Thomas, PEBL COO and coiner of the then newly established brand name, said.
“When I first held Vincent’s early prototype, I couldn’t help but remark that compared to tower PCs and even the other small-factor desktops around, this looked and felt as sleek as a pebble – hence PEBL.
They then set off on their quest to create proven, locally produced technology and incubate the talent needed to design, produce and provide high-quality support.
“That’s what makes us unique. We are on the ground, developing and designing solutions to fit the needs of local consumers and industry-leading corporates with their direct input,” he added.
This is no small statement, and having giants such as Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GiZ), Nedbank, B2Gold, Pupkewitz and NovaNam among many other high-level clients, they’ve proven themselves bankable and, in many cases, unbreakable!
“We’ve been incredibly blessed to have won the trust and support of some of the strictest private and public institutions in Namibia and South Africa. Even global stakeholders in tech, software and industry have shown that they believe in our vision, in our execution and, importantly, our support as a local producer,” Van Wyk said.
Not that you’ll need much of the latter, though. Current stats show that there’s a less than 2% return rate from the Namibian and South African B2B markets they service, and in the event you run into any issues, PEBL has a 72-hour maintenance turnaround policy, and an extended corporate offering for next-business-day service - meaning if they can’t get you back on your device within that period, they’ll replace it. No questions asked, just their commitment to their quality guarantee.
Small factory, big results
On a visit to where the magic happens, one can see this grand vision is thriving. Situated in Katutura, the PEBL factory is impressive and engaging as soon you enter.
Featuring a Microsoft-spec clean room with an assembly line where they build PCs to custom specifications using only the finest components sourced and fabricated around the world, the factory has set benchmarks that have garnered international recognition.
“We don’t just slap our logo on white-label hardware. We design, build and configure hardware solutions that speak to the needs and complexities of the environments in which we aim to make a difference,” factory supervisor and self-taught network engineer, Trevor Sauerwein, said.
“We then commission the components, sourcing from leading global suppliers, and then build the hardware - whether that is small-form factor PCs, laptops, displays or other peripherals - to the exact needs of our customers.”
“That’s not all. Thanks to the quality of our products, we’ve won the backing of the biggest name in computers, Microsoft, who saw it fit to appoint us a local device partner. This allows us to deploy PEBL-personalised Windows images with directly injected digital product keys into our devices.
“We’re extremely proud of this partnership, as we are currently the only company in Namibia that enjoys this kind of endorsement, and one of just three in southern Africa,” he said.
From Katutura to the world
When asked what the future holds, Van Wyk is optimistic that PEBL can go on to make a wider cultural and socio-economic impact, even beyond our borders.
“Currently, we sell more units in South Africa than we do here in Namibia. This is somewhat frustrating, as here there are times when things like procurement and financing policies aren’t too favourable for local small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).”
“This, coupled with the lengthy processes involved when getting local certifications for some technologies, doesn’t make this an easy initiative, but we’ve gotten a lot of support from both the private and public sector over the years. We hope we can continue to grow, so that we can expand our internship and graduate programmes. We hope to inspire and equip the next generation to produce quality, cost-effective technology at home, using local skills.”
“PEBL understands the impact of accessible technology, and wants to be a catalyst for this culture of homegrown innovation,” Van Wyk said.
Echoing this sentiment, Thomas added that the founder “believes we can build anything… and so far, he’s been right,” he said with a smile.
You can learn more about the brand and their comprehensive range of products including displays, webcams and Bluetooth headphones at thepebl.com, where you can place an order which can be shipped wherever you are in the world.
The company is also currently finalizing a major distribution agreement, which is set to see them in large retailers across Namibia and South Africa, so watch this space for more exciting developments.