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Educating biotech entrepreneurs in South Africa: Emory partners to offer Gauteng Accelerator Programme

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Holly Korschun

Emory’s involvement in GAP Biosciences is part of a larger effort by Emory to assist in building bioscience capabilities in South Africa.

Emory University and The Innovation Hub, Africa’s first internationally accredited science park located in Gauteng Province in South Africa, this week launched the Gauteng Accelerator Programme (GAP) in Biosciences with a two-day bioscience business workshop for South African scientists and entrepreneurs. 

GAP Biosciences is a comprehensive, nine-month program that includes educational programs and a business plan competition, designed to accelerate the establishment of biosciences-based companies that will be both profitable and contribute to Gauteng’s socio-economic development. Gauteng Province includes Pretoria and Johannesburg, major South African cities.

This week’s workshop, attended by more than 70 participants from South Africa’s leading research universities and government research councils, included instruction in the biotechnology industry, intellectual property law, capital formation and business models. Emory faculty Dennis Liotta and Chip Frame, as well as Emory general counsel Steve Sencer, were among the presenters.

Emory’s involvement in GAP Biosciences is part of a larger effort by Emory to assist in building bioscience capabilities in South Africa. Liotta and Sencer have created the Emory South Africa Drug Discovery Training Program, which also brings South African scientists to Emory and partner sites to receive advanced instruction in drug discovery disciplines. 

Liotta is a veteran entrepreneur and co-inventor of HIV drugs taken by more than 90 percent of U.S. patients and thousands more globally. He holds more than 70 U.S. patents and has been a co-founder of several pharmaceutical companies.   Sencer, prior to becoming general counsel, has represented Emory in connection with technology licensing and drug and vaccine innovation.

"Through the GAP Biosciences program we have an excellent opportunity to help our partners develop a model for drug discovery and development that will lead to economic advancements as well as significant improvements in the health of the citizens of South Africa," says Liotta. "We are very pleased to offer our experience at Emory in both discovery and training as we begin this vital partnership."

In addition to the workshop, GAP Biosciences includes a business plan competition, in which six to eight teams of entrepreneurs-in-training will participate in an intensive five-month program, working with local and international mentors to develop business plans and participate in an intensive business competition. Faculty from Emory’s Goizueta Business School will present a week-long executive education course for the teams. 

The winning team will be selected in December 2012 and will receive a cash prize, free business incubation at The Innovation Hub, continued mentorship and business support for a year.

GAP Biosciences is modeled on collaborative programs previously offered by Emory and the South African government. 

"Because of Emory’s proven success in transferring scientific innovation, especially in drug discovery, into practical applications, we are well-positioned to train scientists in transferring early-stage, innovative technologies into the commercial marketplace," says Sencer. "We want to continue expanding our network of biotech relationships internationally, and this partnership fits within Emory’s mission of engaging in productive partnerships and working collaboratively for positive transformation in the world."

The Innovation Hub CEO McLean Sibanda says it is the perfect home for GAP Biosciences. "We have created a unique space for high-tech entrepreneurs, world-class businesses, academics, researchers and venture capitalists to meet, network and prosper. The Innovation Hub is a knowledge-intensive business cluster that is ideally situated in Pretoria. We are very proud of our relationship with Emory University, which will help us to bridge the gap that exists between ideas and the market," he says.

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