Africa's first biotech incubator programme launched

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Nine entrepreneurs from SA and Zimbabwe have been selected to participate in Africa's first biotech incubation programme, BioCiTi.

BioCiTi is a specialised bio-technology incubator established by the Cape Innovation and Technology Initiative (CiTi), in collaboration with biotech incubator OneBio and The TechVillage, a Zimbabwean entrepreneur support organisation.

It aims to support South African and Zimbabwean biotech start-ups at the convergence of laboratory work and computational science, working on solutions aimed at driving change in Africa. It draws projects and talent from a diversity of disciplines, including biochemistry, microbiology, and genetics and material science.

The intense six-month development training programme is valued at over R350 000 per business. It will culminate in a demo day, when entrepreneurs will pitch their companies to local investors.

"CiTi sees a lot of opportunities in biotech to catalyse the sector," says Ian Merrington, CEO of CiTi.

"There is a lot of nascent activity in the country and Africa, but not much of it comes to fruition in a commercial sense, or from the perspective of being able to take it to market and scale. The launch of the BioCiTi incubator continues CiTi's increased focus on specialised incubation."

Following an extensive search earlier this year for South African and Zimbabwean biotech entrepreneurs, who are late in the research cycle and early in the product cycle, more than 51 applications were received and nine start-ups selected for the programme.

During the six months, the programme will deliver three bootcamps, virtual workshops, expert coaching sessions and tailored online content.

The sessions will take place at the new, high-tech lab based at CiTi's Woodstock premises, the Bandwidth Barn. The lab is a controlled facility where the start-ups are able to develop and trial their ideas.

Other sponsors of the programme include the Centre for Proteomic and Genomic Research, the Finnish government, through its Southern African Innovative Support initiative, and the South African government's Small Enterprise Development Agency.

"While international investments in biotech start-ups are rising exponentially, it is limited in Africa," says Michael Fichardt, co-founder of OneBio.

"We believe the combination of entrepreneurship training, co-working, shared lab facilities and funding will help develop the local market."

Takunda Chingonzo, CEO of TechVillage, notes: "Our hope for participating businesses is to open their eyes to the business world, help them collaborate and see the benefits of the ecosystem. Our aim is to enhance their business skills, strategies and any ideas they may have. Ultimately, it will be satisfying to see a few of the businesses successfully take their products to market."

The biotech start-ups chosen to participate in the BioCiTi and OneBio Immersion Bootcamp are:

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

Gourmet Grubb: Developed the world's first dairy alternative made from insect larvae which is used in a variety of products to support global food security while reducing the human impact on the environment.

MyBiome: Disrupts the field of probiotics by providing a personalised microbiome-derived product that is said to be superior to probiotics in preventing the gut-related illnesses linked to the use of antibiotics.

PharmaHealth Technologies: Empowers patients to own and manage their comprehensive health data while allowing doctors and clinical researchers authorised access in order to deliver data-driven, patient-centric healthcare in Africa.

TRYAD: Aims to solve the health and environmental problems associated with synthetic indigo dye used in the denim industry by producing natural indigo dye made by microbes.

WNNR Biotech: Provides the emerging Zimbabwean farmer with a cost-effective biofertiliser that can promote plant growth, restore soil fertility and increase productivity while gently taking care of the environment.

My BluePrint: Aggregates healthcare data such as genetics, lifestyle and health goals to develop individualised treatment plans.

D Chem Group: Improves people's quality of life by providing quality and affordable cleaning products and through its in-house R&D expertise to develop innovative products.

AlphaKymeric: Uses plants as expression systems to manufacture proteins and metabolites used in the fields of agriculture, health and research.

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