Stellenbosch University churns out tech-based spinout companies
During 2020, and despite the lockdown period, Stellenbosch University’s (SU’s) technology transfer team, Innovus, established and welcomed five new spinout companies.
The team also raised a total investment of R26 million for Stellenbosch University projects and spinout companies during the lockdown period, with all staff members operating from their virtual offices.
According to the university, the creation of these companies demonstrates the social impact of a research-intensive institution such as SU.
It notes that when scientific breakthroughs become commercially available, their beneficial impact on society is amplified dramatically.
The five new companies are BioCODE, Phagoflux, Susento, Biotikum and Immobazyme.
Anita Nel, chief director of innovation and business development of SU and CEO of University of Stellenbosch Enterprises (US Enterprises), previously known as Innovus Technology Transfer, advised that a name change was recently incorporated to distinguish the activities of Innovus, the division within SU, from the holding company through which SU holds equity in its group of companies.
SU explains that professor Resia Pretorius, head of the Physiological Sciences Department in the Faculty of Science, and her team of researchers, engineers and scientists, developed the BioCODE 2-in-1 nanosensor to early detect disease risk in patients.
It notes the BioCode, which detects inflammatory biomarker levels from a drop of blood, is small enough to be used by a medical practitioner in his or her rooms and for nurses in mobile clinics.
BioCODE is a finalist in the international Falling Walls Breakthrough of the Year 2020 awards in the science start-ups category.
The technology offered by Phagoflux describes the ability to monitor health and wellness by measuring the self-cleaning activity (autophagy) of bodily cells.
The university explains that when cells cannot undergo autophagy, toxic material builds up and the cell dies – this happens in dementia, Alzheimer’s disease and unsuccessful aging.
High autophagy delays ageing and prolongs life, says the varsity, adding that the discovery of autophagy earned the Nobel Prize in 2016.
According to SU, Phagoflux has developed a solution to measure this self-cleaning process accurately, and wishes to make this metric for cellular health publically available.
By monitoring autophagy and its activity with a Phagoflux device, it will for the first time be possible to accurately quantify the effect of lifestyle such as exercise and diet (critical to monitor obesity and diabetes endemic) and even medications, such as those for neurodegeneration and cancer.
SU adds that Dr Elsje Pieterse, a senior lecturer at the Department of Animal Sciences at SU; Dr Michael Woods, co-founder and CEO; and Dr Neill Goosen, senior lecturer in the Department of Process Engineering at SU, launched Susento in 2019 in their quest to develop and produce a sustainable protein source from insects for both human and animal consumption. The product is a high-quality protein powder which can be used in any high protein product, it notes.
The other spinoff company, Biotikum, is a proudly South African company which was founded in 2020 by Dr Deon Neveling, Liesel van Emmenes, professor Erick Strauss and US Enterprises.
Biotikum develops and produces microbial additives for the agricultural industry. Microbial additives include host-specific animal probiotics, microbial silage inoculants and soil inoculants, says SU.
It explains that microbial additives are environmentally friendly technology which promotes sustainable farming practices and improves profitability. Biotikum also provides large-scale microbial production services to various industries in Africa.
Immobazyme was founded by Dominic Nicholas, Ethan Hunter and Nick Enslin, who are also the inventors, together with professor Leon Dicks from the Department of Microbiology.
The university notes Immobazyme has developed a novel device that uses a microporous cellulose matrix that immobilises enzymes (to retain most of its activity) in vitro and can be used in the organic synthesis of commodity metabolites such as antibiotics, antidepressants, food additives, and the like.
Furthermore, says Nel, four projects of Innovus received a total amount of R2 449 476 from the Technology Innovation Agency Seed Fund.
“The University Technology Fund (UTF) Seed Fund also invested R3 million in two companies, with due diligence being conducted on a third company. Four SU projects have also successfully obtained UTF Pre-Seed funding from Innovus, and the total value of this investment is R1 482 550,” says Nel.
“A more established SU spinout company received approval for an investment of R14 million. An investor also invested an amount of R5 million in one of our recently established start-ups.”
There are 28 active companies under US Enterprises at various stages of their business life cycles. Despite COVID-19, several of these companies have declared and paid dividends in 2020, the university says.