Life science and biotech entrepreneurs, let alone start-ups, are currently few and far between in South Africa. This is partly due to the embryonic status of the South African bio-economy, but also because this new and emerging area doesn’t have the track record which investors and entrepreneurs seek to base their efforts and investments.
Realizing the opportunity, the CPGR (Centre for Proteomic & Genomic Research) developed an accelerator program to stimulate and support life science and biomedical start-ups in South Africa. The program is unique in that it focuses on cutting-edge ‘omics’ technological capabilities; provides a professional organization compliant with key quality management standards (ISO 9001:2008, ISO 17025); and has expertise in running a life science business. It blends these features into an offering that facilitates the development of products, the testing of business models, and the starting of new ventures in a lean and cost-effective fashion.
The accelerator’s value-add to the biotech start-up community is to let entrepreneurs concentrate on core capabilities or project goals while being embedded in a nurturing environment that has the necessary scientific support capabilities. This will decrease project and overall investment risk; reduce time-to-market; facilitate milestone execution; and increase investment readiness of start-ups. In addition, the program provides access to a wide range of life science stakeholders and complementary resources in (South) Africa.
The program seeks to attract ventures that are situated in the health, food and veterinary markets; make use of ‘omics’ technologies; operate in a regulated research & development and business environment; and, benefit from exposure to South African resources and market opportunities while having a dedicated global growth vision. It aims at attracting local and international projects to spread project risk and to create a vibrant start-up community.
Tokeid Biotech emerged from an accelerator pilot phase originally run in the course of 2015 and was founded by Cape Town entrepreneur Kamal Salasa. Tokeid’s business is to develop and offer food (process) quality control testing services, with an initial focus on meat contamination and adulteration in the Halaal food sector. To this end, Tokeid will utilise a variety of ‘omics’ technologies provided by the CPGR, including qRT-PCR and mass spectrometry. The company will initially launch a service offering in the local market but has global ambitions.
The Halaal food sector is potentially large in size, in particular in Africa. The Continent has close to 50% of the total global Muslim population. By 2030, 79 countries are expected to have more than a million Muslims (up from 72 countries currently). According to the World Halaal Forum, the total size of the Halaal food market in 2010 was USD 651 bn, of which Africa’s share was USD 153 bn. The Halaal market can be segmented into food, pharmaceutical products, cosmetics, and others, at 61%, 26%, 11% and 2%, respectively. The Halaal food industry has been identified as a driver of economic growth for South Africa; the Western Cape is spearheading this development by establishing a Halaal Food Park.
A South African based food quality test offering has significant socio-economic potential. Among others, it may generate: (i) increased Halaal food-related business activity in South Africa, (ii) enhanced (food) exports from South Africa to other countries; (iii) propagation of products, services and technology to other countries; (iv), increased travelling from other countries to South Africa.
Other than by CPGR’s accelerator program, Tokeid Biotech is financially supported by the Kaaf Trust. Represented by seasoned investor Dr Anwah Nagia, the Kaaf Trust provides start-up capital and mentoring to the fledgling venture. The Trust’s involvement is an early sign of a growing appetite to support young bio-entrepreneurs, a key requirement for creating a successful South African start-up ecosystem and bio-economy.
The CPGR is one of Africa’s first fully integrated ‘omics’ service provider, built to leapfrog South Africa’s ability to conduct information-rich biomedical research onto a globally competitive level. Amongst others, the organization offers the following ‘omics’ capacity: Next-Generation Sequencing: NextSeq500 (1x), MiSeq (1x), IonTorrent PGM (2x), IonProton (1x), for high-performance sequencing projects; Microarrays: Affymetrix GS 3000 and Affymetrix GeneTitan for genoytping and gene-expression analysis; Mass spectrometry: ABI 4800 MALDI-ToF/ToF and Thermo Q Exactive for MS-Proteomics; High-throughput PCR: ABI 7900 for qRT-PCR applications; Automated DNA/RNA QC, library handling and sample processing; dedicated IT infrastructure and bioinformatic applications for data analysis and interpretation.
The CPGR is a non-profit company located in Cape Town, South Africa, based on an initiative by the Department of Science and Technology (DST), and financially supported by the Technology Innovation Agency (TIA). To drive the development of the sector, the Department of Science and Technology has launched a bio-economy Strategy for South Africa, which identifies a number of initiatives and incentives to assist with bio-innovation. One area that is now being offered through the Centre for Proteomic and Genomic Research Platform is specialised incubation, in which bio-entrepreneurs and start-ups can access expert scientific support and infrastructure that will enable science-based businesses. The CPGR combines state-of-the-art information rich genomic and proteomic (‘omics’) technologies with bio-computational pipelines to create unique solutions in the human health and the agri-biotech sectors. The CPGR has adopted a certified ISO 9001:2008 quality management system and is a BEE Level 2 contributor to economic transformation in South Africa. Information about the CPGR can be obtained at www.cpgr.org.za and www.cpgr.org.za/blogspot.
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About Kaaf Trust
The Kaaf Trust, headed by Dr Anwah Nagia, is a well-established investment holding trust that focuses on property and other strategic investments. The Kaaf Trust prides itself in seeking socially responsible investments that show potential to be successful commercially while contributing substantively to the well-being of society. Previously, the Kaaf Trust has invested in human rights initiatives, community sports, publishing and social upliftment projects. It believes that young, competent, determined entrepreneurs are able to improve society through increasing employment, fostering innovation and building communities!
With regard to the Kaaf Trust’s investment in Tokeid Biotech, it aims to strengthen the right of consumers to make adequate food choice decisions based on accurate and reliable information. It is with concern that the Kaaf Trust has noted recent studies that indicate the increased incidence of adulteration and food fraud within our food supply. This is particularly problematic for the Muslim, Jewish, Vegan and Hindu communities, as well as all people concerned with eating wholesome, pure food. With this in mind, the Kaaf Trust is excited to be associated with Tokeid Biotech.
For information contact Anwah@elementim.co.za
About Kamal Salasa
Kamal is a scientist and, with Tokeid Biotech, entrepreneur. Operating at the interface of science and community led him to identifying food fraud as a potential problem, especially for the Muslim community. In the case of food quality, entrepreneurial action seemed warranted. Engagement with and support by the CPGR and the Kaaf Trust enabled the formation of Tokeid Biotech and set Kamal on an entrepreneurship journey. Leveraging external expertise and skills in order to achieve and surpass targets was of tremendous value and importance in the early start-up phase. In particular, engagement with the Kaaf Trust led Kamal to recognise the importance of engaging the right stakeholders to add value and impetus to plans. Having CPGR and the Kaaf Trust as partners is the foundation for taking Tokeid into a successful future.
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