‘Beyond The Starting Blocks’ was a seminar presented by experienced and successful entrepreneurs on starting a business in South Africa. I have posted the crux of what the extremely dynamic Greg Starke learnt from his entrepreneurial endeavors and I end off with a listing of pro’s & con’s that the equally talented Justin Devine has experienced in with launching a company here in South Africa….Enjoy the read* Dr Greg Starke co-founder DISA Vascular ‘Hanging on with your finger nails and toes’ is how Dr. Starke describes the entrepreneurial journey; a climb up a jagged cliff face with the end goal of achieving the view from the top being a worthy reward! From his experience he has noted that there seems to be a trend for business plans’ in the biotechnology industry to contain loads of technology but they lack an underlying plan. It is VERY IMPORTANT to develop a solid business plan that can be followed: rather limit what you intend to accomplish, and expand at a later stage! (This will add credibility to your concept when you approach investors). Secondly, YOU are just (if not more) important than your product in the eyes of the investor – so BRAND YOURSELF well! Another interesting point Dr. Starke made was that there is available CA$H in South Africa to fund entrepreneurs, but not to the extent of available funds in developed markets such as the US. This has resulted in difficulty for entrepreneurs to value their businesses when asking for funding – DO NOT under value your idea! (Rather look at other similar companies/products in international markets to gauge the true value of your idea – using ‘discounted cashflow’ is not an accurate reflection of the true value of your idea, particularly in the biotechnology sector). Also, the people you chose in your business are key to your success, look far and wide for those that you bring onboard..do not take the simple route and chose within your circle of friends – that can result in a very costly mistake and could run your viable business into the ground! Secondly, find a mentor with whom you can bounce ideas off and obtain valuable advise; successful entrepreneurs generally tend to be open to the opportunity of engaging with fellow entrepreneurs..So find someone successful in your field of interest and ask to sit down and

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chat: let them know you value their opinion and more importantly, listen! If your business consists of intellectual property and you intend on applying for a patent, ensure that the patent will be hold value. Patents require a lot of responsibility and can be extremely expensive, and unless you have a lot of financial reserves it will be very difficult to defend your patent. MAKE SURE THE PATENT IS WORTH PAYING FOR. With regard to regulatory affairs, make sure that you conform to all regulatory requirements held in the countries you intend on entering. It is also a lot easier and cheaper in the long run to comply with the necessary regulations in the early stages of the business and develop your product accordingly. Changing once at a developed stage will prove difficult and very expensive! Creating a successful company – decide on the exit strategy from the very beginning and focus your energies and efforts to achieve the set goal; this will allow you to create direction in the company and allow the business to succeed with an end goal in mind. And make sure you have control over what you are doing; control allows you to move at an efficient pace and adapt to the changing market. Failure to do so will hinder your businesses’ chance of success. Dr. Justin Devine Founder-director Synexa Life Sciences

Building a business in South Africa


  • Low cost
  • Western-based institutions
  • Decent education infrastructure
  • Plentiful access to patents
  • Attractive lifestyle


  • Small local market
  • Lack of venture capital
  • Global connectedness
  • Afro-pessimism
  • Government policies

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