The process of creating a successful innovative business from scratch is an exceedingly difficult endeavour for entrepreneurs — every step is filled with challenges, such as finding a solution that actually serves a gap in the market. The Technology Innovation Agency (TIA) has joined hands with The BIO Africa Start-up Index to provide support to start-up businesses. 

The Index serves as a tool for the creation of new businesses by providing several sources of entrepreneur information. It establishes an ecosystem for start-ups that fosters strategic partnerships, attracts investments, promotes growth and stimulates the development of fledgling enterprises.

Start-up businesses within the BIO Africa Ecosystem are listed on the Start-Up Index. In this way, the registered business has access to gold standard advisory services, exposure to international partners, access to finance and funding opportunities and connection to the BIO Africa Ecosystem Network.  In essence, this is a virtual accelerator or incubator, with the following enterprise support services  offered:

  • Listing in the marketplace. Innovators Market Corner is a virtual e-commerce platform providing access to markets.
  • BIO Africa Academy, a training hub offering various customised training and courses to entrepreneurs from some of the best business schools, such as Emory University’s Goizueta Business School. In addition it provides technical training opportunities through partners like the International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (ICGEB). There is also a series of webinars from the BIO Africa Convention.
  • The Knowledge Resources Centre is essentially an innovation exchange, providing up-to-date knowledge resources to scientists and Innovators. It is curated by prominent local and Emory University-based scientists. 
  • The Communications Hub, which underpins the ecosystem, provides marketing, brand development and advanced communications support to start-ups.

These services are provided at a subsidised cost to start-ups as part of the TIA’s mandate to build a vibrant local bioeconomy.

If your start-up business is in the pharmaceuticals or biotechnology sector, you can contact AfricaBio at [email protected] to learn more.

CapeBio technologies strengthening diagnostic capabilities in Africa

Biotechnology has aided in the development of more than 1 200 diagnostic tests used in clinical practice today. With only a blood sample or mouth swab, many of these tests can diagnose conditions faster and with greater accuracy than ever before. Many of these diagnostic tools are now portable, allowing physicians to conduct tests, interpret results and determine treatment on-site. These tools have had a profound effect on access to healthcare in Africa, where healthcare infrastructure is often undeveloped.

CapeBio, a South African biotechnology company, received approval to make polymerase chain reaction (PCR) Covid-19 test kits from the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA). The test kits, which were co-developed by CapeBio and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), will assist to lessen South Africa’s reliance on imports by making kits more accessible to the country and the rest of the continent.

In a radio interview, CEO of CapeBio Daniel Ndima said that these kits will help South Africa become less dependent on imports: “Yes, the product adds value to our country, because it essentially ensures that there is a sufficient supply of these test kits. I’d also like to clarify that while we normally use the term rapid test to refer to anti-body testing at home, this one is a polymerase chain reaction test that allows people to receive results faster.”

By developing local value chains, Ndima hopes to help make South Africa and the continent better able to deal with global challenges such as the Covid-19 pandemic. He said that global trade restrictions and the limitations they placed on Africa’s ability to react appropriately to the pandemic indicate the need to empower the local biochemical research, development and manufacturing industry. Beyond building Africa’s ability to handle crises like pandemics, Ndima wants to improve the overall quality of life for South Africans through scientific advances, as well as create jobs for unemployed life science graduates.

CapeBio continues to be a pioneer in genome editing and genome engineering in Africa by providing novel proteins and enzymes derived from native microbial diversity, namely The Cape Floral Kingdom. Formally launched as a private company in 2018 because of a successful research and development project funded by CSIR and the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI), CapeBio is still shaping the African continent for the future by utilising innovative biodiscovery to unlock the power of ancient genomic data.            

Sawubona Mycelium fosters responsible and sustainable bio-based production 

Sawubona Mycelium is a biotechnology company that recognises the power of microorganisms to create sustainable and responsible manufacturing. The company was founded by Neo and Busi Moloi in 2018, with the purpose of combining their passions for fermentation and medicinal mushrooms. Using fermentation, the two biotechnologists intend to produce bio-actives derived from mushrooms that are useful in a variety of applications. 

For the first time in African history, Sawubona Mycelium have produced 800 litres of liquid cultivated mushrooms called Enokitake for bio-based cosmetic products. The CSIR assisted Sawubona Mycelium to scale up the production of high-value products from the mycelium of Enokitake using a liquid-cultivation method, bringing the global mushroom ingredients mega-trend to South Africa with the help of the CSIR Biomanufacturing Industrial Development Centre (BIDC). 

“As fermentation scientists, we developed an interest in using mushrooms to develop high-value ingredients for cosmetics, functional foods, and pharmaceutical applications. When we eventually found an approach to doing this through the support received from the Technology Innovation Agency, we felt that, as part of our scaling-up process for commercialisation, it would be important to test the efficiency of our product on a large scale,’’ said Neo Moloi of Sawubona Mycelium.  As part of the production process, the company also produced enough biomass to convert it to a dried mushroom powder, which is useful in food products such as thickeners and in supplements in the form of immuno-boosters. 

“We are now working on a purification method that will be suitable for the cosmeceutical industry. The incorporation of the mushroom-derived active ingredients into skincare products to produce clean, more effective and safe-to- use beauty products has become a global phenomenon. As Sawubona Mycelium, we aim to continue to harness natural flora and botanical extracts, which also includes the use of mushrooms indigenous to  Southern Africa to produce fermented bio-based cosmetic products for the South African market,” said Busi Moloi. 

ICGEB and BIO Africa host first international edition of “ICGEB Science & the City South Africa”

Concerns about an underinformed or misinformed public regarding scientific issues is not new, as disconnects between public opinion and the scientific consensus on topics such as vaccine safety, evolution and climate change have existed for a long time. In recent times, we also face the challenge of an overabundance of misinformation, where false or inaccurate information is presented as fact. 

On 29 March 2022, the International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (ICGEB), in partnership with the BIO Africa Convention, held its first international edition of ICGEB Science & the City at the Centre for the Book in Cape Town.

Moderated by Dr Nhlanhla Msomi, South African Governor of the ICGEB, President of AfricaBio and Biotechnology Specialist, the panel of experts included Dr Lara Donaldson, ICGEB Cape Town Group Leader, Plant Systems Biology; Professor Mosa Moshabela, Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Research and Innovation at University of KwaZulu-Natal; Dr David Phaho, Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Research, Technology Innovation and Partnerships at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology; and Dr Rasigan Maharajh, Chief Director, Institute for Economic Research and Innovation at Tshwane University of Technology. 

The topic for the launch event was Myth Busters: Discrediting Misinformation in Science, and covered the following key topics:

  • The importance of discrediting misinformation in science 
  • The role of science and scientists in fighting misinformation 
  • The impact of misinformation on the public health system 
  • Common misinformation/myths and how to bust them 
  • Tools to distinguish between facts and fake news — breaking the misinformation cycle — what are trustworthy sources .

Science has a specific role and a variety of functions for the benefit of our society, such as creating new knowledge, improving education and increasing the quality of our lives. To face sustainable development challenges, governments and citizens alike must understand the language of science and must become scientifically literate. 

Amid the rise of fake news, fake science news is an underexplored type of news that presents threats. While fake science news can spread like wildfire on social media, we all have a responsibility to think before sharing content, because fake news is harmful; it creates anxiety and undermines public trust in national authorities. 

According to Donaldson and Phaho, when we are confronted by what we suspect to be fake news, we can: 

  • Stop and fact check; 
  • Debunk some of the myths caused by fake news;
  • Speak out when you see false information; 
  • Present facts in layman’s terms, and
  • Make use of tools to spot the techniques used to create fake news.

Moshabela added that “public health systems are complex”, and there are several ways to get the public to understand scientific language by placing focus on providing scientists and scientific institutions with opportunities and resources to have meaningful conversations with the public, such as:

  • Increasing awareness and understanding of public engagement and its benefits
  • Demonstrating excellence in public engagement
  • Training scientists to communicate with non-scientific audiences, and
  • Building capacity for conducting public engagement with science activities.

One of the most significant takeaways of the event is the need to connect scientific research with the public. Ongoing conversations between science and society need to be convened and facilitated to draw on relevant information and expertise from multiple perspectives. 

If your start-up business is in the Pharmaceuticals and Biotechnology sector, you can contact AfricaBio at [email protected] to learn more.