People will often pay to retrieve lost data (documents, pictures and videos) from a hard drive or flash drive. If you have some computer knowledge you can start a data recovery service.

The business
Data recovery is the process of retrieving lost data from a hard drive or flash drive, whether due to damage to corrupt drive or accidental (or purposeful) deletion.

There are two types of clients in this business: consumers who want to retrieve lost data (photos and video) for sentimental reasons (holiday snaps for example) and businesses who wants to retrieve lost data for commercial or legal reasons.

There are two classes of storage devices that is popularly used:
1. Portable memory such as USB flash drives and SD memory cards
2. Hard drives such those found in computers and laptops

It is not difficult to retrieve data from a storage device provided the device is not physically damaged (say from fall, and then it becomes complicated, if purposely damaged it may be impossible). If you’ve watched the Medical Detectives TV show you will know that data is not fully deleted, even when recycle bin is emptied.

In my opinion there are a few types of clients here in SA:

  1. Home business user with corrupt windows, meaning they cannot access files, this is easy to fix (run a disc repair, failing that, put in another PC as slave to access and save data).
  2. Photos and media retrieved from portable memory (flash drives, SD cards); very easy to retrieve using software that costs less than R1000 (some are even free). When I say very easy I’m referring to accidently deleted images and possibly from formatted drives, not a smashed up card. This is not 100% successful though some files are merged into one, pixilated etc. but it is much easier than the data recovery from a computer hard drive. This is because computers have a lot of different files compared to memory cards and when the data is retrieved the files will be mixed up and usually just labeled in consecutive numbers such as “01, 02, 03” if it’s just photos of video then you can easily preview the media but with a normal hard drive, there will be thousands upon thousands of files to go through.

I don’t know how big this market is (as in how much people will pay for this service in SA), how much can you charge? Maybe R500 at a time, people are only willing to pay so much and you hardly need specialised equipment.

I had a license for this software before as I purchased it to use on my camera’s SD card, it is very easy to use. To illustrate my point: I even used it on a flash drive I picked up in a nightclub, the drive was blank, but when I ran it through the software, I got some great music files (and some adult images and videos). Here is how the files looked once I retrieved it (I have pixelated the images and video preview in case children visit this website).

Retrieved data from flash drive

Retrieved data from flash drive

That basically covers the consumers market and maybe small business that use flash drives.

Then there is…

  1. Business data recovery, the real business. The most lucrative, used when drives crash or when they are investigating a staff member or a crime where data was deleted, then they will do a “forensic analysis on the disc”. Here you can charge a premium, but here and even above you may have to work on a “no success, no fee” basis to get clients and if you fail to retrieve data no cost. In this business you looking at a more expensive device, around R50 000, the problem with hard drives compared to flash memory mentioned above is that it can have various types of read errors, so you need a device to find the problem. Sure you can try various “manual” techniques, like disc repair and vendor diagnostic tools but it is time consuming. Also finding files is labour intensive with a hard drive with lots of data.

In my opinion the last one (3) is probably where there is a sustainable business, if data recovery is your only business. The other two if you have a PC shop or do PC repairs then fine but on its own in SA, might not be a big enough market other than a sideline or part of another service such as PC repair.

More Information
Portable media retrieval (I used Recuva)

How to recover lost data from USB flash drives and SD cards

With portable flash drives now as ubiquitous as fresh air we store all sorts of important information on them from important and sensitive documents to family and holiday snaps on digital SD cards. Never mind the heartache data loss that these devices can cause, it can also cause practical problems especially if these devices store the fruit of labours or sensitive information.


Hard drive data retrieval

DFL-SRP USB3.0 For Data Extraction – Dolphin Data Lab

DFL-SRP USB3.0 For Data Extraction has replaced the previous DFL-DDP USB3.0 data recovery equipment (2 Ports). DFL-SRP USB3.0 For Data Extraction is one world famous recovery equipment with disk imaging, file extraction & common firmware repair modules. It recovers three hard drives at high speed synchronously, up to 180mb/s each channel & over 300mb/s for ssd.

Sample business plan you can adapt to your needs (this is for business data retrieval)

Data Recovery Business Plan

Introduction Electronic Detectives, Inc. helps lawyers identify, acquire, restore, and analyze electronic data in litigation. From tape restoration to hard drive imaging, our full-time, certified forensic, discovery and testifying experts are highly experienced in acquiring data from NT, Novell, Unix and Linux servers and PCs, among others.


You have a business idea, where to next?
How to Start a Business from Business Idea