Commercialising the technology that he developed during his PhD studies, Njodzi Zizhou is spearheading entrepreneurship in Upington through the establishment of Cape Carotene, of which he is CEO.
An algal process is being scaled up to commercial production capacity to produce astaxanthin, a carotenoid and strong antioxidant that imparts a pink colour on the flesh of fish like salmon, or shrimps and makes flamingo's pink.
Upington in the Northern Cape province of South Africa is the optimal environment for algal processes with the best combination of maximal sunshine and light intensity coupled with minimal rainfall. Superimposed on this is the availability of semi-skilled labour and need for job creation in the immediate area, which algal processes lend themselves to.
Cape Carotene is producing the algal astaxanthin for inclusion in fish feeds to improve the pink colouring of the flesh of aqua-cultured fish such as salmon and trout. The barriers to entry for fish feeds are lower than the pharmaceutical applications to which the company's product is ultimately destined, providing an initial return on investment whilst the more high-tech products are developed and the regulatory requirements are met.
The Cape Biotech Trust, one of the Department of Science and Technology's former Biotechnology Regional Innovation Centres (BRICs) now integrated in to the Technology Innovation Agency (TIA), funded the start-up operation, linking in with their other algal initiatives in Upington.
|Njodzi Zizhou (CEO), Liphuko Seleke (Lab Assistant), Kefiloe Monageng (Marketing) and Thembile Jacob|
Professor Sue Harrison supervised Njodzi's PhD research and heads the Centre for Bioprocess Engineering Research (CeBER) in the Department of Chemical Engineering at UCT. The research group provides Cape Carotene with inocula (starter algal cultures), maintaining the algal culture to mitigate the risk of contamination at the Upington site, as well as providing routine analytical support which is difficult to provide in the comparatively isolated and harsh Upington environment. These exemplify the ways in which a university can foster a start-up company and especially a biotech start-up - maintaining access to a technology base and minimising the cost of specialist resources.
It is hoped that this will be the first of a pipe-line of algal technologies that are developed and commercialised.