Like all the best ideas, Ludwick Marishane’s was a simple one. Why bath if you can rub cleansing lotion on your body instead?
But, like all the best ideas, the simplicity ended there. It took him four years to develop the world’s first germicidal bath-substituting gel, DryBath – a task he juggled while completing matric and a business science degree. As a result, he’s been named one of the 12 brightest young minds in the world by Google, was judged the best student entrepreneur on the planet at the Global Student Entrepreneur awards, and is South Africa’s youngest patent holder.
It all happened, he likes to say, because he’s too lazy to bath. What he fails to mention is that his inspiring story is one of tenacity, humility and always seeing the glass as half full.
The story’s most important chapter begins one sunny day in Grade 11. ‘I was just hanging with a bunch of friends,’ he says, ‘and one of them said, “Why doesn’t someone come up with something you can just put on your skin so you don’t need to bath?” and I thought, I’d buy that!’
Most people would have left it at that. But not Ludwick, who had already dabbled in inventing a healthy cigarette, creating his own biodiesel, devising a mobile dictionary and almost publishing a security magazine.
‘I’ve always been very inquisitive,’ he says, ‘but I wouldn’t say I’ve always been creative. I think the key to my success was not having any preconceptions about whether it would work or not – I just wanted to give it a go.’
And give it a go he did. Ludwick researched the idea using Google, Wikipedia and his WaP-enabled Nokia 6234. Surprised to discover nobody else had beaten him to it, he spent the next six months immersed in formulas, melting points and toxicity figures before arriving at the unique DryBath blend of a biocide, bioflavonoids and moisturisers.
Using the knowledge he had picked up while creating the healthy cigarette, he filed for a patent, wrote an 8 000-word business plan (using his phone) and started knocking on venture capitalists’ doors.
‘At that point, it was just a concept on a piece of paper and my belief it’d work.’
That belief helped him keep going as potential investors turned him away. ‘I think doubt is a very natural step, because it shows you have an actual life to worry about besides this idea you are working on. at the same time, I was unable to see myself working on anything else, so I pushed through.’
His tenacity has certainly paid off. Not only has the final product attracted the attention of everyone from international airlines to lazy teenagers, it can tackle the hygiene and water-supply problems in poor communities in the country and abroad. It’s this balance of innovation, social responsibility and mass appeal that lies at the heart of Ludwick’s invention development and commercialisation company, Headboy Industries.
‘I founded the business on the idea of it being an African innovation conglomerate developing ideas and innovative products, especially for developing continents,’ he says. ‘I have to make a profit, so I try to come up with a creative idea for a huge market. I also try to find a way of adding a social-impact aspect.’
With DryBath, for every unit bought by a corporate client, Headboy will provide a sachet to poor communities for free or at a subsidised price. Ludwick’s role model, American industrialist and philanthropist JD Rockefeller, would have approved.
‘His story was one that captured my mind at a young age – not because he made so much money, but rather how he made his money. I have always subscribed to the philosophy that the people who succeed financially are the ones that touch the most lives and in the most positive way possible.’
That motto reaches beyond Headboy Industries’ boardroom. Initially entering entrepreneurship competitions for exposure and funding, Ludwick quickly realised his winning ways could help others too.
‘I actually didn’t want to win the Global Student Entrepreneur Awards. I thought winning would be a huge burden, with all the media attention involved. I didn’t think my business needed any more of that, but I soon realised it was less about myself and more about what I was going to do with the prize, and the causes I could bring awareness to with that kind of recognition.’
What he’s done is fly the flag for student entrepreneurship. Later this year, he’ll be involved with organising the inaugural regional competition for the Global Student Entrepreneurship Awards in the country. After graduating in June, he’ll work part-time at the University of Cape Town, helping develop SA’s first entrepreneurship programme at university level. And he’s about to launch the world’s first entrepreneurship league.
‘There are leagues for different sports that develop world-class players, but there’s no equivalent in the business world,’ he says.
It’s inspiring work, but don’t call him a role model.
‘I’m happy my story inspires other people, but I’m very averse to being a role model. It puts me on a pedestal that does not allow me to be human.’
Even with all the success he has garnered for his innovation, Ludwick remains humble. ‘Looking back, I think that it’s been a great journey. Though I did think DryBath would be a lot more successful and more lives would have been changed by this stage, I am not disappointed as I think we’re well on our way. It’s positive that things have been a bit slow – it’s given me time to grow and mature with everything.’
- This article originally appeared in TFG Man, the men’s lifestyle magazine of the Foschini group.