In 2019, the SA Innovation Summit partnered with wine industry body, Winetech in search for innovators and disruptors – providing unique solutions and products which can be commercialised, to wine producers and the agri-tech industries. The Winetech Pitching Den focuses on: climate change; water reclamation and resourcing; genetics; machine learning, AI and big data; and any other areas which increase efficiency, profitability and environmental sustainability.
We spoke to Sheila Storey of Nemabio, the Third Prize winner of the 2019 SA Innovation Summit Winetech Pitching Den, about their participation in the Summit and her entrepreneurial journey.
Who is Sheila Storey?
I grew up on an apple farm in the southern Cape. I studied a BSc (Agric) majoring in entomology and plant pathology. I worked as a researcher for a short while and then started my own nematode diagnostic laboratory 30+ years ago. I love the consulting in the crop protection arena helping farmers solve their problems. A natural progression was NemaBio which was started in 2014.
What is Nemabio?
NemaBio is a South African enterprise working towards formulating and registering the first indigenous nematodes for use in the fruit, vegetable and flower industries.
NemaBio produces natural pesticides in the form of microscopically small worms called entomopathogenic nematodes or EPNs for short i.e. worms that kill insects. Their products are being created in partnership with the leading minds in the local and international EPN research and the project is currently in an advanced stage.
What made you participate in the SA Innovation Summit – Winetech competition?
I participated in the FemBioBiz Accelerator Programme which taught us how to pitch. Since I work in the wine industry I thought the Winetech competition would be a good fit.
Has your participation in the SA Innovation Summit had any impact in your business?
Not directly since we have not made any connections with investors yet but the exposure has been huge. A media group has given us exposure both locally and internationally which has created a lot of interest.
What are some of the challenges you have been faced with while developing your product?
There have been many which include getting the organism to do what we want it to do. Biotech is not easy and not everything goes according to plan. It is a very slow and tedious process. Everything is new and it can be a very lonely road.
What’s next for Sheila Storey and Nemabio?
We have to meet all the legal compliances which include registration. Currently we are seeking investors to help build a pilot plant and get sufficient equipment as well as runway for 3 years.
What advice would you give to entrepreneurs or those looking to start their own business?
Find your passion and then it will all come naturally be dogged, driven, patient! Find Accelerator Programmes and enter competitions. Use social media to find these spaces e.g. SEDA or Innovation Hubs in each province and work through them.