The 2018 NEPAD SANBio Annual Event saw researchers, entrepreneurs, and investors gather at the CSIR in Pretoria to consider the state of bioscience commercialisation and the funding for it. While investors came fishing for the next big idea to fund, many innovators came looking for funding at different stages of the value chain - and found much more than just that.
A variety of funding opportunities exist in SADC region. From SANBio itself, to the BioFISA II Programme, to many public and private institutions that fund start-ups, established businesses, and other small enterprises that need a little help to get noticed by bigger funders. Through the BioFISA II Programme, SANBio is currently funding 14 R&D commercialisation projects.
Through the many presentations at the event, it became clear that there are also opportunities that go beyond funding. Even at the event itself there were opportunities for aspiring entrepreneurs to improve their pitching skills, lessons on how to monetise their ideas, and mentorship to help them to put together a business plan.
A common theme was that there are opportunities available at every step from the lab to the market and beyond; all the innovators and entrepreneurs need is look. Speakers presented many different structures, organisations and funds set up to help startups that need to commercialise their innovations, and established businesses that need to grow their operations.
Hivos Impact Investments in Netherlands are an impact investment management company working in Africa where they work to create positive impact and financial return for the SADC region. Managing Director Mr Jaap Spreeuwenberg said that they aim to bring small startups to scale where they can reach other, bigger investors.
With their Food & Lifestyle Fund, they invest in food companies in Southern Africa to create a sustainable food system from farm-to-fork. This fund is most suitable for innovators and entrepreneurs who want to promote a healthy, diversified diet with local foods that are produced in ways that increase biodiversity and restore soils.
Impact Amplifier in South Africa provide business funding, as well as entrepreneur acceleration and training. They believe that the socio-economic and environmental challenges in Africa can be addressed by innovative entrepreneurs and novel business models.
“We are in an exciting time, as the ecosystem is growing and maturing over the last five years. We help early stage life sciences companies reach Venture Capital company status,” said Mr Max Pichulik of venture capital firm Impact Amplifier.
The company helps promising businesses access funding from both local and international investors, and they have a host of training programmes to get businesses ready for investors.
The H-Web, otherwise known as the The Happiness Web, is an organisation whose goal is to match underprivileged entrepreneurs with experienced business people in order to create opportunities for both the entrepreneurs and the business mentor.
“We help our investments thrive with large investment in life sciences. I want to see truly innovative companies with a pan-African and global potential,” said Pol.
The FemBioBiz Acceleration Programme is going through its second iteration as an initiative of SANBio to empower female-owned bio-businesses. The acceleration programme, in the form of a contest, trained 15 finalists in 2017 at an intensive entrepreneurial boot camp; the finalists get business training even if they do not win the grand prize of a R250 000 investment in their business.
Season One winner, Professor Keolebogile Motaung is a testament of the benefits of being part of the FemBioBiz programme. Her company, Global Health Biotech, got a large investment injection, and she as well as her fellow finalists gained more knowledge on entrepreneurship through the training they received.
Mentioned here are but a few of the many opportunities that entrepreneurs in the biosciences can have access to. The SANBio website as well as the SANBio email alerts also contain other funding and training opportunities for entrepreneurs, researchers and those early stage innovators thinking of getting started on their journeys into biobusiness.