News24

Young scientist wins top award

2008-09-12 15:37

Johannesburg - Young scientist and entrepreneur Ashley Uys has been named SAB Kickstarter of the Year beating off 16 other contenders from South Africa.

The 25-year-old Capetonian, whose company Real World Diagnostics was also named Business of the Year, was awarded a whopping R200 000 at a glamorous function in Johannesburg on 2 September.

"Winning the Kickstarter of the Year award couldn't have come at a better time," Uys told News24 on Friday morning.

"Apart from the cash, which is always important for any young company, the mentorship that I've received showed me the structures and systems that you need to have in place for a successful company," he said.

Causing a stir

According to Uys, the award also gave him a lot of media exposure which has already led to many new contracts.

Uys, who grew up in Belhar on the Cape Flats, holds a BSc in Biotechnologies with Honours degree from the University of the Western Cape as well as business qualifications from Wits Business School and UCT.

Following employment as a research assistant at UCT and then as a research-and-development scientist at Vision Biotech, Uys decided to set up Real World Diagnostics in 2006.

His company markets high quality yet cost effective medical test kits for pregnancy, syphilis, malaria, HIV/ Aids and has recently introduced a multiple drug testing kit.

Uys caused a stir in scientific circles for his revolutionary highly-sensitive HIV test kits which are cheap and accurate.

In layman's terms they can detect the Aids virus more than other kits in highly diluted blood samples.

In a comparative analysis between big brands it out performed all of their tests. It is also one of the most effective tests on infant's blood.

Unique idea

So, how did it all start? How did the young scientist manage to merge his science ideas with a successful business?

"I did not want to be stuck in a lab for the rest of my life" he told News24.

"After finishing my honours degree in biotechnology at UWC, I decided to do a business management course through Wits University which taught me how to commercialise my science and to make money out of it," he said.

According to Uys it is important to come up with a unique idea, "something that is really differently from your competitors".

Uys came up with the idea to develop medical testing kits that are accurate but cheap. "Medical testing normally is expensive, because it is done in labs," he explained.

"However, we have developed specialised technology to produce rapid tests at very cheap prices."

According to Uys, Real World Diagnostics is the only company in Africa to use this technology, which gives him a good niche in the market.

"The company is growing fast, and eventually we would also like to branch out to the rest of Africa," he said.

Drug testing kits

In addition to the grand prize money, Uys also received R125 000 as an initial KickStart grant which he used to buy plastic moulds for his pregnancy testing kits which are supplied to a leading pharmaceutical chain as well as some office equipment.

Uys is not one who rests on his laurels.

He has just signed a contract with the Department of Heath to supply mortuaries with drug testing kits as well as supplying the police with cheap yet effective alcohol breathalysers.

His company also serves as a consultant to some police departments and has had huge interest from the army.

So what did KickStart mean to him?

"Obviously as a young company cash flow is a major issue and with the cash I received it created a foundation for me to grow. It also gave me enormous exposure and led to many new contracts.

"The mentorship showed me the structures and systems that you need to have in place because growing and expanding too fast can also be a bad thing."

'Watch your back'

And, what advice would he give to anyone wanting to start their own business?

"You have to have an idea and know that it's feasible. However, the most difficult thing to do is to take the risk.

"The whole process of starting my own business has developed me as a person. I never knew how to admit when I was wrong and this is a lesson I had to learn. You also need to watch your back and be careful. Not everybody is scrupulous in business."

  • SAB Kickstarter of the Year's second prize, worth R150 000, went to Antonio Pooe of the Johannesburg-based company Exactech which specialises in fraud detection and forensic investigation where technology is involved.

    Kwa-Zulu Natal's Bev Gumbi and her company Isivuno Containers clinched the third prize and R100 000.