How Biotech Africa Startup Thrives in a Poor Environment

How Biotech Africa Startup Thrives in a Poor Environment

Jenny Leslie’s efforts to get the government support for her Biotech Africa startup has never bored any fruits. The startup develops an important element for HIV testing kits. Jenny Leslie is the founder of BioTech Africa found in Cape-Town. It is the only company in Africa that manufactures recombinant proteins. This is an important component of diagnostic HIV test kits. Furthermore, it is used to test other diseases including the Zika virus and Hepatitis C.

There is a need for government support in the company. This is because of the huge barriers to entry connected with the industry. Putting up of a simple lab requires more than R5 million. Since launching the startup in 2014 together with Alexio Capovilla and Jason Lurie getting government support has always been impossible. It forced them to turn to raising money through the Technology Innovation Agency (TIA) or Industrial Development Corporation (IDC). This wasted a lot of their time according to Leslie.

Leslie tried to source for help from Manufacturing Competitiveness Enhancement Program (MCEP), Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) and Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) in 2015 and 2016. She became unsuccessful in tapping the incentives even after hiring consultants to help her with applications.  She says the reason why they failed is that the firms failed to understand their products. IDC came to offer her money after a half a year after application. But the amount given was small with the large interest rate. TIA had an interest in supporting the company but the agency was straining to support its budget.

She had no other option but to throw an eye to the private sector. She managed to get an R4.8 million from Paul Anley the founder and CEO of Pharma Dynamics. This was to be given in a return of 30% stake in the business. Anley together with Tommy Scott invested R17 million in the company in 2015. The money was to go to the construction and fitting of the firm’s laboratories. The company is currently using the laboratory to carry out research and development. Furthermore, they use it as a manufacturing unit.

Leslie is not happy with the fact that the government opts to import the kits from Korea instead of buying them locally. The Korean company uses protein from BioTecch Africa to manufacture a test kit known as Biotracer. Biotracer is then used by Department of Health. Leslie is aiming at raising capital to help the company manufacture its own BioSmart self-test kits for syphilis, malaria, and HIV. It needs R20 million to set up the plant. The company has managed to record success in the last six months. It now exports its recombinant protein to customers in the US, Asia, and Europe. This has made it increase its sales with a higher percentage. According to Leslie, the cost of 1 milligram of the startup’s protein goes for around $100.


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Written by Denis Opudo

Am an engineer who's a tech blogger, hit me up on [email protected] and we base our discussion on technology in Africa and the rest of the world.
Denis the Tech guru

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