FemBioBiz Acceleration Programme Season 3 – It’s a wrap

FemBioBiz Acceleration Programme Season 3 winner

After 8 months of business training and bootcamps, mentorship support and networking events across 10 SADC member states, the FemBioBiz Acceleration Programme crowned its Season 3 winners last week (29 October 2019) during the Africa Women Innovation and Entrepreneurship Forum (AWIEF) Awards held at the Cape Town ICC.

Seychelles cosmeceuticals manufacturer, Maria Sullivan of Exotic Scents (1st prize), Botswana perfumer, Kgomotso Sedumo of Kerren Huppuch (2nd prize) and Zimbabwean social entrepreneur, Theresa Farai Nyava of Sanitary Aid Zimbabwe (3rd prize) along with student category winner Jessica Dzvore emerged supreme following a regional pitching event that saw 13 bio-entrepreneurs and female students pitch their innovative businesses and ideas to investors and funders.

Launched in 2017 by NEPAD Southern Africa Network for Biosciences (SANBio) with the support of the BioFISA II Programme (a Finnish-Southern African partnership programme to strengthen NEPAD SANBio), FemBioBiz Acceleration Programme supports female bio-entrepreneurs and female students in the SANBio Member States working on health products and services, nutrition related products and natural products. 

The programme aims to strengthen in-country ecosystems that support female bio-entrepreneurs and is therefore implemented in partnership with national coordinators who work with a network of stakeholders from private sector, public sector, training organisations, business development service providers, researchers and NGOs to support female bio-entrepreneurs and to address national agendas on gender inclusiveness. 

Speaking on this year’s participation and support from member states, NEPAD SANBio Network Manager, Dr Ereck Chakauya said It is imperative that science is seen in the products and services that improve the livelihood of people.

"Innovation makes it possible to use scientific knowledge to generate money. SANBio is supporting women to take their rightful position in industrialisation and use their creativity to generate wealth in the Biosciences space. Knowledge only becomes power when you are able to act on it. SANBio is empowering women ‘bioprenuers’ to act on their passion to create new businesses through innovation. Our partnership with Hivos has enabled us to run the FemBioBiz program for Season 3 and we look forward to more collaborations." 

Both Season 1 and 2 have produced first price winners from South Africa therefore having Seychelles take this year’s the victory means ‘the world’ to Maria Sullivan. 

“This win means the world to me, I started the business back in 2005 with my husband making craft items, soap packaging however it was only in 2013 I changed our business strategy where we focused on utilising our abundant natural resources that we have in Seychelles.  All our products are made from cold press coconut oil and are free from added chemicals.”

"This title for me shows me that I can achieve whatever I set my mind to and that  hard work does pay off. I hope that this opens doors to opportunities for my business to export internationally and to grow. My country is often regarded as the smallest, I hope this win makes the world realize our potential and that we can also offer something to the African continent regardless of our distance and size," she said.

According to Sullivan, what sets Exotic Scents different from its competitors is the fact that they utilise the whole coconut fruit – making sure that nothing goes to waste.

“Our products includes cold press coconut oil, soap, sugar scrub and body butter of which I have used the coconut oil, coconut milk, coconut cream, coconut water, coconut shell and the coconut husk.”

The SADC natural products sector has an undeniable rise in the demand for organic and natural cosmetic, beauty and skincare products. Of the estimated total US$83 billion market for herbal products including functional foods, pharmaceuticals, and herbal supplements; herbal beauty products make up US$14 billion, while the global cosmetic, beauty and skincare market was valued at US$135 billion is 2016 and is expected to reach over US$200 billion by 2025. Sullivan hopes for Exotic Scents to be counted among the companies that contribute economically to this sector.

Currently the company has created employment opportunity for 10 local women and has stores at the Eden Plaza Shopping Centre, the Savoy Resort and Spa, the Coral Strand Hotel and it is also available at the Seychelles International Airport.

"My aim is to establish contact with an authority that can help me with my organic certification and to export internationally.This will create growth for my business which will create employment opportunities for the people of my country and growth to our economy," added Sullivan.

The contribution that the FemBioBiz Acceleration Programme is making to the entrepreneurship journeys of women such as Sullivan is small compared to the journeys they are yet to undertake. Other stakeholders would be able to add more value to the women supported through this Programme to ensure their businesses, and consequently the impact they can make, will not die along the way.

Chakauya concluded the pitching regional event by urging both the private and public sector to support the FemBioBiz Acceleration Programme Season 4 in 2020 towards building female bio-entrepreneurs that create jobs and address the health and nutrition challenges in SADC. "This is why SANBio is proud to operationalise the SADC Charter on Women in Science, Engineering and Technology (WISET) through the FemBioBiz," he added. 

By Kelebohile Sedieane