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Innovation accelerator raises R5m for women in bioscience

Innovation accelerator raises R5m for women in bioscience

The FemBioBiz Acceleration Programme launched in 2017 to support female-owned businesses within the bioscience space in SADC, has successfully raised approximately R5 million for this year's round - subject to increase with additional sponsors.

The Programme was launched by the NEPAD Southern Africa Network for Biosciences (SANBio) with support from Finnish-South African Partnership Programme, BioFISA II.

Last year 156 applications were received from nine SADC countries and according to SANBio, the first phase of the programme was carried out between 25 May and 28 June in six successive workshops in in Malawi, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Mozambique, Botswana and South Africa.

The top performers received grants of between R100 000 and R250 000 towards their businesses as well as a trip to attend Europe's leading start-up event Slush 2017 in Helsinki, Finland from 30 November – 1 December 2017.

In 2018 the FemBioBiz Acceleration Programme will be implemented in Botswana, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Seychelles, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe. However, individuals from all 13 SANBio member states in SADC are encouraged to apply.

Dr Ereck Chakauya, SANBio Network Manager, said the program is targeted at female professionals who are focused on the use of technology to optimise key areas of biosciences, particularly health and nutrition.

"Usually you can't separate nutrition and health. We are looking at any technology that can impact on health, so we have programmes that are looking at medical devices, for example, wearables. We do training on the business and technology, but also we're trying to get our research technology institutions to back-up the technology part," said Chakauya.

He believes female professionals currently face a number of challenges in business. "There are quite a few disadvantages, some of them inherently societal, some of them have to do with education and also prejudice, people just think 'ah, she can't do IT,' but it's just stereotyping and that's what we're trying to amend, this also encourages young girls."

The need for more women in science and technology fields remains an ongoing discussion.

Ahead of International Women's Day earlier this month, Ugandan social entrepreneur and technology advocate Eunice Baguma Ball said female professionals looking to establish themselves within tech-focused industries are not given equal rights and opportunities to fully participate in building society.

Ball said gender inequality continues to be a pressing issue world-wide, particularly in male-dominated sectors like technology where women face systemic barriers – specifically, when it comes to key influences like investment.

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