The NEPAD Southern Africa Network for Biosciences (SANBio) with the support of the BioFISA II Programme hosted the network’s third Annual Event from 21-22 May 2019 at the CSIR International Convention Centre, Pretoria, South Africa. With over 280 delegates from 17 countries, 56 speakers participating in 9 sessions, and 5 spotlight presentations during the event, there was a buzz of knowledge exchange and interaction among multi-helix players representing the private and public sectors, academia and civil society in the SADC bioscience innovation ecosystem.
Marking the end of BioFISA II, a Finnish – Southern African Partnership Programme to strengthen the SANBio network, and held under the theme “Beyond the Valleys: Untold tales of Biopreneurs”, the event shone a spotlight on the programme’s achievements over the four years of its implementation as well as exploring how innovation within the biosciences community could be commercialised to benefit the entire SADC region.
Department of Science and Technology (DST) Deputy Director General for International Relations, Daan du Toit opened the event, saying that regional integration and regional partnerships are key to the government’s foreign policy agenda which focused primarily on Africa: “It is therefore important for the DST to support SANBio,” he said.
“The most important aspect of the government’s position on collaboration was inter-African collaboration. SANBio’s role in achieving regional collaboration is critical in order to create a southern African innovation ecosystem which will be key to the region’s growth. They have enabled regional countries within southern Africa to build broader partnerships as evidenced by the excellent partnership that has been established with Finland. The BioFISA Programme is an excellent example of tri-lateral co-operation between partnerships in the north and the south to harness science and technology for development,” he added.
In his opening remarks Dr Thulani Dlamini, CEO of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), which is the host of the SANBio Hub, noted that NEPAD SANBio, the BioFISA II Programme and the CSIR share similarities in terms of their goals, noting that all are trying to solve societal issues, trying to develop technologies that translate into impact, and noting that these efforts must be informed and directed by the intended impact. He also stated that innovations can also be brought in from other countries, built on and adapted for the specific challenges that need solving: “I think SANBio and BioFISA II are a good example of that [collaboration] – that in everything we do we need to look for opportunities to leverage not only our human capability but also infrastructure and financial resources.”
The BioFISA II Programme was launched to support NEPAD SANBio in networking and capacitating the region in terms of technical skills, gender mainstreaming and the commercialisation of research.
Through the programme, NEPAD SANBio has supported 14 projects in commercialisation of innovative products in animal and human health, as well as in animal and human nutrition. This has thus far led to 7 products on the market and 6 start-ups being supported. As additional results of the projects, at least 50 direct and indirect jobs have been created, and 20 students involved in the projects have graduated.
The programme has also reached over 500 female bio-entrepreneurs through the FemBioBiz Acceleration Programme since 2017 and provided 250 women in the agriculture, health and natural product sectors with entrepreneurial training and pitch training, ensuring that these women-led businesses get some support to market themselves, and build up their brands, companies and service offerings. The FemBioBiz Programme has also enabled the support of entrepreneurial ecosystems servicing women and youth in eight SADC countries. The third season of FemBioBiz is taking place in 2019 in collaboration with Hivos and regional partners.
In total more than 1000 individuals have been trained in technical and entrepreneurial skills through various training interventions, and a network of more than 30 official SANBio youth ambassadors has been created across a number of countries in SADC; the SANBio network’s stakeholder base has also expanded to more than 3000 individuals.
The key focus of discussions at the Annual Event revolved around different business models for taking research from prototype to product using start-ups and spin-offs for commercialisation, issues around IP, regulatory environment for commercialisation of health innovations, the importance of collaboration in the commercialisation process, health and nutrition trends in Africa, the landscape for funding entrepreneurs, the entrepreneurial ecosystem support mechanisms in SADC focusing on women and youth, and the issues around scaling up production in biosciences related industries.
Addressing the need for academia and research to actively engage with the private sector, NEPAD SANBio aimed the event to be a meeting of minds and interaction for critical role players in these sectors. Speakers from industry indicated that a platform of this nature is needed for knowledge exchange and to get a bird's-eye view of the realities of commercialisation.
Another key element of the event was the support of emerging entrepreneurs, innovators, start-ups and established companies who participated in two pitching sessions co-hosted with Hivos Foundation, a leading impact investor in the region. At the pitching event 12 companies working in the health and nutrition sectors pitched their businesses addressing unmet needs in the agriculture, fintech and health space. They presented in front of an esteemed panel including Hivos Impact Investment, LifeCo UnLtd, IDC, Land Bank, and SAB Foundation. At the final pitching competition five companies were selected for further mentorship and advisory support from Hivos: Afrobodies, Mobbisurance, YouFarm, Future Farms and Uku'hamba.
As a truly regional network, NEPAD SANBio looks forward to engaging and strengthening its engagement in the bioscience commercialisation space in the coming years.
More content in the links below.
Read more about the achievements of the SANBio / BioFISA II Programme in the booklets below:
Volume 1: FemBioBiz Acceleration Programme (pdf)
Volume 2: Technical and Entrepreneurship Skills (pdf)
Volume 3: Project Portfolio (pdf)