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Innovus, Stellenbosch University’s (SU) technology transfer team, has announced five new spinout companies that launched during the Covid-19 lockdown. The tech transfer team raised an investment of R26-million for SU spinout companies that are currently operating virtually.
The University of Stellenbosch Enterprises announces five new spinout companies created during Covid-19
The five new companies that were established are BioCODE, Phagoflux, Susento, Biotikum, and Immobazyme. These companies are examples of scientific breakthroughs that will become commercially available and provide innovations to society to assist with elements of healthcare.
Five new spinouts launched in lockdown
BioCODE is a two-in-one nanosensor that identifies disease risk in patients at an early stage, for example; the technology adopted at BioCODE can detect inflammatory biomarker levels from a drop of blood. Founded and created by Professor Resia Pretorius is the head of SU’s Physiological Sciences Department in the Faculty of Science, the unique technology can be used by a medical practitioner and nurses in mobile clinics. The innovative technology created by BioCODE has been accoladed as a finalist in the Science startup category at the 2020 Falling Walls Breakthrough of the year awards.
Autophagy refers to the self-cleaning activity of bodily cells. If cells cannot perform the activity of self-cleaning, they die. This takes place when people deal with Alzheimer’s. Phagoflux developed a device that accurately monitors the activity of autophagy. The benefits of this device being made public and accessible is that it is now possible to measure the impact of a specific lifestyle. This assists with monitoring obesity, diabetes, and medication for neurodegeneration and cancer.
Dr Elsje Pieterse, a senior lecturer at the Department of Animal Sciences at SU, Dr Michael Woods, the co-founder and CEO, and Dr Neill Goosen, the senior lecturer in the Department of Process Engineering at SU, launched Susento in 2019. The aim of this high-quality protein powder is to assist in the development of a sustainable protein source that is extracted from insects and used for human and animal consumption.
Biotikum Pty (Ltd), a SA company founded in 2020 by Dr Deon Neveling, Liesel van Emmenes, Prof Erick Strauss, and US Enterprises Pty (Ltd), assists the agriculture industry by developing and producing microbial additives. Microbial additives are a technology that is environmentally-friendly and encourages sustainable farming practices. Biotikum offers large-scale microbial production services to multiple industries in Africa and improves profitability in related industries.
Immobazyme (Pty) Ltd was founded and developed by Dominic Nicholas, Ethan Hunter, Nick Enslin, and Prof Leon Dicks, from the Department of Microbiology. A device was created by Immobazyme that uses a microporous cellulose matrix, which can be used in antibiotics, antidepressants, and food additives by immobilising enzymes. The PepTrap™ device can be utilised in the wine and beverage industry and in water purification systems as it is biodegradable.
Twenty-eight active companies under US Enterprises
In an official press release, Anita Nel, Chief Director of the Innovation and Business Development of SU as well as CEO of the University of Stellenbosch Enterprises (Pty) Ltd (US Enterprises) reveals that four Innovus projects received R2 449 476 from the Technology Innovation Agency (TIA) Seed Fund.
“The University Technology Fund (UTF) Seed Fund also invested around R3-million in two companies, with due diligence being conducted on a third company. Four SU projects have also successfully obtained UTF Pre-Seed funding from Innovus, and the total value of this investment is R1 482 550. A more established SU spinout company received approval for an investment of R14-million. An investor also invested an amount of R5-million in one of our recently established start-ups.”
There are 28 active companies under US Enterprises that are at different stages of their business life cycles. Covid-19 has brought challenges, however many of these companies have rewarded investors by paying dividends in 2020.
The CEO Awards were held in Stellenbosch and amongst the five new companies, other companies were acknowledged for their effective innovations across multiple industries.
Stellenbosch Nanofibre Company (SNC) ™
Dr Eugene Smit, CEO of Stellenbosch Nonofibre Company (SNC) explains that the company, during the lockdown, mass-produced nanofiber materials, such as reusable masks to combat Covid-19.
“By spinning nanofibers onto polyester fabric we found we could produce high quality, medical-grade reusable masks to counteract the single-use aspect of surgical masks, which creates waste management problems and can present health and environmental threats.”
The filters produced by SNC for its medical-grade reusable masks have good breathability and can be sanitised up to 10 times by placing the filter in boiling water and leaving it to air dry. A reported 1.2-million masks were supplied by SNC in four months.
GeoSmart is a company that finds solutions to geographical problems by integrating unique geospatial thinking and cutting-edge technologies. GeoSmart was founded by geographer and computer scientist Professor Adriaan van Niekerk who is the Director of the SU Centre for Geographical Analysis. The company was included in the TerraClim initiative, funded by Winetech, which is a research project about the effects of climate change on the wine industry.
Sein Media is a spinout company that produced content for KykNet, the Grahamstown Arts Festival, the Klein Karoo Nasionale Kunstefees, and the Cape Town Baroque Festival during the Covid-19 lockdown.
SharkSafe was created by Prof Conrad Matthee, Mike Rutzen, Dr Sara Andreotti, and Dr Craig O’Connell. The company uses eco-friendly technology that merges magnetic and visual stimuli to avert Shark species that are dangerous to humans. The company won the South32’s Lewis Foundation Green Economy award for its outstanding contributions to science, engineering, technology, and innovation in South Africa.
SUNMagnetics is a software development company that serves superconductor and quantum electronics industries by providing layout and verification solutions. The company announced that Microsoft and IBM, amongst other big companies that use products for quantum computer design, renewed their licences in 2020.
Unistel Medical Laboratories (UML)™
UML is a dedicated human and animal genetics testing centre that has completed a reported 35 000 Covid-19 tests during lockdown. More staff was employed on a contract basis as an unexpected explosion in referrals for animal DNA testing happened.
SU’s LaunchLab was voted as Africa’s top university-backed incubator for the last four years. The company redesigned its website and accelerated companies from SU and across Africa by launching multiple growth initiatives which led to the creation of sustainable and high-impact companies.
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