You can’t really sing Ludwick Marishane’s praises too highly.

Named Global Student Entrepreneur of the Year for his invention of DryBath, a waterless ‘bathing’ lotion, at 17, Ludwick Marishane was subsequently hailed as ‘one of the world’s brightest young minds’ by no less an authority than Google.

There’s more, much more, including accolades from Time Magazine, but his accomplishments speak pretty loudly for themselves. The most staggering one can be summed up as follows: Ludwick came up with his globally marketed scientific formulation on the dusty roads of Limpopo, with nothing but his high school science knowledge, his ‘trusty steed’ (a Nokia 6234) and R50 a week in pocket money to sustain him.

The phone did dual duty as his research tool and business document repository, Ludwick says in a May 2012 TED talk. Having used it to look up the toxicity, melting points and other properties of various lotions and creams, he soon came up with a formula to put into practice. For the next phase of development, he worked the 6234 even harder – grinding out a 40-page business plan on its tiny screen. Four years later, he was South Africa’s youngest patent holder.

All because he didn’t want to bath.

By South African standards, Ludwick’s R50 allowance meant he was not an especially disadvantaged youth, and yet the tenacity and drive revealed by this story is staggering. Were it not for the 99% perspiration he was prepared to shed for his dream, the 1% inspiration for DryBath that he got from a friend’s throwaway remark would have been for naught. It’s a truism of innovation that others would do well to pay heed.

But what can hardened professionals learn from his story (which by no means ends with DryBath)?

“Firstly,” he says, “Africans don’t buy in bulk. They buy when they need something.” Soon, Ludwick began to sell DryBath in sachets, not bottles, at a fraction of the size and price, making it both more affordable and profitable at R5 per sachet.

Secondly, he realised well-off people liked DryBath as much for its convenience as poorer ones do for its disease-combating hygiene in the face of water scarcity. This opened a very profitable third segment globally.

Together, these learnings led to a phenomenon that Ludwick calls “reverse innovation”. Usually, he says, Western-led inventions enter the Third World in pared-down, affordable forms, but it can also start life in emerging societies and find subsequent application in the West. Now there’s a light bulb moment!

Best of luck to Ludwick, and thanks for the inspiration.

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