Despite vast mineral deposits, Namibia currently imports 100% of its ceramic tile – 2.2m square metres annually. A small, determined team is about to change all that.  

Heikky Katti graduated as a mining engineer from the University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, in 2011. Like any other graduate, he landed a graduate job at Namdeb before moving to Sasol as an explosives engineer.

But his story is different and unique. The 28-year-old came up with a business idea, Namibia Ceramics, which on November 15th won the Development Bank of Namibia (DBN) 2017 Innovation Award that came with N$500,000 (€29,600) prize money.

DBN has said Namibia Ceramics will add value to Namibian clay, quartz and feldspar, by manufacturing tiles, locally. The project is expected to create 150 jobs, the bank said.

The prize money will be used to bring the project to full bankability which will include doing a reserve estimation study in order to estimate the life of the mine, The Namibian reported.

Katti told the newspaper in an interview that the idea of Namibia Ceramics came to him in December 2015, after discovering there were no ceramic products produced in the country, despite the fact there are deposits of industrial minerals in abundance in Namibia.

namibia award
Representatives of Namibia Ceramics receive their award at a Windhoek hotel – The Namibian 2017

After finding out that countries such as Angola and South Africa had ceramic plants, he and his childhood friend, Titus Hidishange, came together and started to put aside a portion of their salaries, eventually committing more than N$300,000 of their own funds to the project.

He spent a further N$50,000 in October 2016 for a business trip to a company called SACMI in Italy. Namibia Ceramics will source equipment from SACMI and they will give them after-sales technical support, including training on site at Rundu and in Italy.

The project will cost an estimated N$185m in total. The business will generate over N$90m in revenue annually.

“We have not secured the capital yet, but we are at an advanced stage of due diligence with different financial institutions. We have got the Development Bank of Namibia who are acting as the lead fund arranger for the transaction and they will most likely contribute between 30% and 50% of the fund portion,” he said.

Katti expects that the transaction will go through in the first quarter of 2018, after which they will order the equipment.

Asked what their target market will be, Katti said they target local retailers and property developers.

“Namibia consumes about 2.2m square metres of ceramic tiles annually and 100% of these tiles are currently being imported. Namibia Ceramics will initially produce 40% of the imports, after which we will ramp up to 70% over a period of three years,” he said.

The team includes Protasius Aluvilu, a mining engineer at Rössing Uranium, who has just completed his Master’s degree in mineral economics at Imperial College London; Katti’s former university classmate, Ike Aphane, a mining engineer; and Sello Mashebela, a geologist. The whole team is younger than 30 years of age.

Katti said as soon as the team secures the capital, they will establish the first production line, which will see Namibia Ceramics producing glazed and decorated ceramic tiles. After five years, they plan to explore sanitary ware such as toilet seats, basins and bath tubs.

“My advice to fellow young innovators is, if you can picture it spiritually then consider it done already physically,” said Katti.

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