Five SA biotech companies to watch in 2018 [Digital All Stars]

Digital All Stars is a series of articles which aims to celebrate the best of South African digital. The articles, which will appear on Memeburn and Ventureburn, recognise and celebrate South Africa’s best digital entrepreneurs, business people, advertisers, and media professionals among others.

Starting a biotech business, like any other startup, is not an easy undertaking. If anything, biotech entrepreneurs appear to face more difficult odds. For example, setting up a simple lab alone can cost more than R5-million.

However, despite these barriers to entry, there are a number of SA companies that are doing well, with some even securing customers around the world.

Below is a list of five such firms we think you should watch out for in 2018.

Akili Labs


This Pretoria-based award winning biotech startup develops low cost rapid medical diagnostic solutions used in testing for viruses, bacterial and fungal infections. Akili also develops bioequivalents and nutraceuticals.

The startup was founded last year (2017) by Lucas Lotter and Charles Faul.

Some of the awards Akili Labs has won include first place at the GAP BioScience 2017 and best prototype at Innovation Bridge SA 2018. More recently the company was a finalist at the 2018 Cisco Global Problem Solver Challenge. Last year the startup won R50 000 as the best prototype at the Department of Science and Technology’s Innovation Bridge.

Earlier this month, the startup’s founders attended the Collision Conference in New Orleans, in the US, where they exhibited one of their flagship products, the Field Lab — a confirmatory mobile diagnostics lab.

“We have been invited to apply for funding from four different programmes and numerous other investors have requested more information and showed intention in taking the next step. We are very happy with the outcomes from Collision and we are looking forward to building on what we have learnt,” the founders told Ventureburn in an email earlier this month.

Read more: SA startup Akili Labs to exhibit affordable mobile lab at US tech conference

Since Lotter and Faul started the company they have raised over R1.2-million in funding. “We are currently doing a funding round and we are looking for and in discussions with investors. We hope to conclude this round soon as this will allow us to move forward rapidly towards our goals for the company,” the duo said.



Beoonics — founded by Ernst Thompson and Paul Collett — claims its flagship product, Vivocare, raises profits per poultry unit by decreasing poultry grower costs, and that it improves food efficacy as well as poultry survival rates.

The company is a member of Cape Town-based hardware tech incubator Savant, was last year (2017) nominated by the incubator to participate in the annual Swiss SA Advanced Technology Entrepreneur programme, an initiative of the Technology Innovation Agency (TIA), University of Basel’s Institut für Jungunternehmen and Venturelab.

In a call with Ventureburn yesterday (21 May), Thompson said Beonics has “a lot of products in the pipeline” which he said the company will “probably launch next year, most likely under a different company”.

Thompson, who travelled to the US last month, said the company is looking to set up a presence in the US market.” By the end of the year, we will have someone in the US,” he said.

On its website, Savant states that the startup has raised over R20-million. While funding is usually an issue in the sector it doesn’t seem to have been one that Beonics has faced. Commented Thompson: “We haven’t really had an issue with funding at this point”.



Medical diagnostics startup Incitech was founded in 2015 by COO Dineo Lioma, CTO Loretta Magagula, CEO Danisa Nkuna, and CFO Lindiwe Nkosi.

The startup has developed the MicroPatch, an easy-to-use rapid diagnosis HIV test kit that aims to change the way in which HIV tests are conducted.

In 2014 the startup won first prize at the E2 Startup Challenge. In addition, the Savant incubatee is also one of the winners of the Allan Gray Orbis Foundation and E-Squared Accelerator competition and was also one of the winners at last year’s Global Entrepreneur Congress held in Johannesburg.

Incitech has so far raised over R900 000.

Trailblazer Technologies


Trailblazer Technologies develops a range of chemical treatment technologies — for which it has patents around the world — and specialises in industrial and mining waste water treatment.

The company was founded in 2006 by inventor John Bewsey, Alastair Forsyth, and James Cockburn.

Trailblazer Technologies has received over R26-million in investment so far. Earlier this year the company received a R14-million grant from the Technology Innovation Agency (TIA) to refine its technology.

In phone call yesterday (21 May) Bewsey said the company will use the grant to finance its Krugersdorp-based pilot plant.

He claims the company’s underground black water waste water treatment process is capable of treating water profitably, compared to other treatment methods which he says lose money.

BioTech Africa


Cape Town-based BioTech Africa is the sole manufacturer in Africa that produces recombinant proteins, a key component of diagnostic test kits used to test for HIV and a range of other diseases, including Hepatitis C and the Zika virus. It exports its recombinant proteins to clients in Asia, Europe and the US.

Since the startup was founded in 2014 by Jenny Leslie, Jason Lurie, and Alexio Capovilla, it has raised over R20-million in funding.

In an interview last month, Leslie said the startup is considering setting up a facility that would enable it to manufacture its own range of self-test kits.

Daniel Mpala


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