Get ready for Gourmet Grub and other biotech inventions

Joanne Carew
By Joanne Carew, ITWeb Cape-based contributor.
Cape Town, 26 Aug 2019

The first cohort of up-and-coming South African and Zimbabwean biotechnology start-ups got the opportunity to pitch their initial innovations in Cape Town last week.

The group was part of the BioCiTi, OneBio and TechVillage bootcamp programme, which is an initiative supported by OneBio, an early stage biotech investment fund, and BioCiTi, a biotech incubator established by the Cape Town Innovation and Technology Initiative.

The “demo day” was the culmination of a three-month training programme. Each of the nine ventures were given the chance to pitch their ideas, explain how their concept fits into the market, and make their plea for funding, assistance in accessing markets/networks and ask for business mentorship and support.

Providing an interesting view into the future of biology tech in Southern Africa, some of the ventures included a company looking to redefine our perceptions of food by producing the world’s first dairy alternative from insect larvae, to a brand that is working to restore and maintain farmland soil fertility, among others.

Since May, each participated in three one-week intensive bootcamps, during which they were trained by and interacted with industry experts. In the periods between the bootcamps, the start-ups also took part in virtual workshops and coaching sessions.

Speaking to ITWeb at the event, Michael Fichardt, an entrepreneur, technologist and OneBio co-founder, noted there are three key reasons this kind of programme is so important.

“In order for SA to have a thriving biotech ecosystem, we believed there were three key things missing. Firstly, there was no independent lab facility available for biotech start-ups to tinker, play and build products. Secondly, there was very little investment capital for early stage start-ups. And lastly, there were no incubation or training programmes for biotech start-ups.”

The nine participating start-ups, which were chosen from a pool of 50 applicants, include:

CapeBio Technologies: An applied genomics company that designs and develops life science research biologics sourced from African indigenous biodiversity hotspots.

Gourmet Grub: The world’s first dairy alternative made from insect larvae.

MyBiome: Specialising in all things relating to the human gut microbiome, MyBiome is the first in the country to offer microbiome banking and autologous encapsulated transplants.

PharmaHealth Technologies: A clinical trial and patient engagement platform that aims to promote ethical and patient-centric biomedical innovations.

Tryad: Produced natural indigo dye made from microorganisms, aimed at being a viable alternative to the synthetic indigo dye used in denim colouring.  

WNNR Biotech: A microbial ecosystems management company that restores and maintains farmland soil fertility.

My BluePrint: A healthcare data aggregator looking to develop individualised treatment plans and enable more effective and efficient healthcare provision.

D Chem Group: Developer of innovative and affordable cleaning products.

AlphaKymeric: Uses plants to manufacture proteins and metabolites used in the agriculture, health and research.

Think back to the start of the computing industry, when computers were enormous, clunky machines. Now think about how the invention of the desktop totally changed the game by putting these tools in the hands of the everyday man, said Fichardt.

“We’re seeing a similar thing happening in the biotech industry. Costs have come down dramatically in recent years, meaning it’s now possible for biotech companies to really experiment and be imaginative.”

Over the next 20 years, we will use biology to change so many of the processes that exist across the world, he concluded. “An exciting revolution is coming in this space as we see research and ideas being translated into commercial companies.”