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DISA Vascular : Greg Starke

A Cape Town based company leads the way in vascular devices – and captures the international medical market.

Juliet Pitman

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Greg Starke

On the face of it, South Africa might not be the first country that leaps to mind as a leading innovator in medical devices. And that doesn’t just apply to foreign perceptions; far too many local South Africans still believe that products made overseas, particularly those in the high-tech biomedical field, are inherently higher in quality and sophistication than anything we could hope to produce at home.

Upholding a cardiovascular tradition

And yet to Greg Starke’s mind, the fact that his company, DISA Vascular, is a leading developer of innovative vascular medical devices that are distributed internationally, is not a surprise. “What I find more surprising is that there aren’t more of us around,” he says. “South Africa is, after all, the home of the world’s first successful human heart transplant. For a time, the world looked to our country as a leading light in the cardiovascular field.”

It’s a tradition in the footsteps of which DISA has been following for more than ten years, researching, developing and manufacturing leading vascular devices for the treatment of coronary artery disease. “It can get quite technical but, simply put, we develop devices that allow doctors to open up blocked arteries, and keep them open,” says Starke. These devices are known as stents and comprise a ‘scaffold’ that holds the wall of the vessel open to allow the free-flow of blood to the heart.

Staying ahead

It might sound simple, but, like anything in the medical devices sector, the field is highly competitive and the most successful players are those that continually innovate. DISA currently has what’s known as a combination device undergoing human trials. Starke explains:

“About five years ago the market saw the introduction of the first combination stent devices  – these are both mechanical and drug-delivery devices. In addition to keeping the wall of the artery open, they deliver drugs locally to stop the proliferation of scar tissue cells around the device, which often causes a new blockage.” The problem with these new combination devices is that, in a small number of patients, they can lead to something known as late stent thrombosis – the formation of clots at the site of the stent, which can be fatal. “Our new product is designed to overcome this issue,” says Starke.

Keeping up with expenses

Human trials take time and research and innovation necessarily require significant amounts of capital. “Finding funding is a huge part of what DISA has had to do – almost too much of our time is required to do it,” Starke says, adding that it’s more difficult to raise really large sums in South Africa. “In the United States, for example, a company like ours would raise between US$10 million and US$20 million at a time, whereas we might raise between R10 million and R20 million. This makes the gaps between funding much smaller for us, so it’s a constant challenge.”

Fortunately, it’s one that DISA’s proven itself particularly adept at solving. Impressively, Starke and his founding partner financed their first device to the point of human implant stage through their consulting work. “We leveraged contacts, called in favours, convinced and cajoled people into giving us their time free of charge,” he said. Having that first implant gave the company enough credibility to raise funding to get European regulatory approval for the product. Since then DISA has raised funds from the IDC, Cape Biotech and BioVentures.

Turning challenges to opportunities

Another challenge in the early days was knowing how to get the products to market. Today DISA distributes its own products to over ten countries across the globe, but the first product went to market via a partner. “When we started, and still today, there was no regulatory body in South Africa for medical devices, so we got approval from the relevant European authorities and I think this proved to be a differentiator in the end.

“It showed our credentials and opened up other markets for us,” says Starke. He maintains, however, that the South African market was ironically the most difficult to break into initially. “I think it would have been easier to sell to South Africa if we were a Swiss company, because of local perceptions about local products,” he explains. But the challenges have also brought opportunities. “Our counterparts in the US and Europe can take a much longer time developing products, because they don’t face the same financial pressures that we do. We have had to do everything cost-effectively, which makes for a good business model, and we’ve also had to focus on getting a product commercially ready much sooner than they might have to. I think it’s made us more competitive in the long run,” he says.

Plans for the future

Looking ahead, Starke aims to take DISA up to what he terms a “tier two company – just below the ‘big four’” in five year’s time. That will mean broadening the product range, growing the company’s global footprint from ten to 25 countries and establishing a physical presence in Europe, DISA’s biggest growth market.

The company is already investigating minimally invasive revascularisation products for diabetic patients who risk losing limbs as a result of poor circulation. Starke keeps his eyes firmly on the next new development. “If you ask me what I’m most proud of, I’d have to say our innovation,” he concludes.

DISA Vascular
Player: Greg Starke
Est 1999
Contact :+27 21 448 0923, www.disavascular.com

Juliet Pitman is a features writer at Entrepreneur Magazine.

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27 Of The Richest People In South Africa

Here are 27 of South Africa’s richest people, but how did they achieve this level of wealth? Find out here.

Nicole Crampton

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Learn the secrets of SA’s most successful business people, here is the list of the 27 richest people in South Africa:

In a world with growing entrepreneurship success stories, victory is often measured in terms of money. The feat of achieving a place on this list is, however, years of hard work, determination and persistence. “One has to set high standards… I can never be happy with mediocre performance,” advises Patrice Motsepe.

From the individuals that made the 27 of the richest people in South Africa list, actual entrepreneurs and self-made business people dominate the list; while those who inherited their fortunes have gone on to do even bigger and better things with their wealth. Over the years, some have slipped off the list, while others continue to climb higher and higher each year.

  1. Elisabeth Bradley
  2. Sharon Wapnick
  3. Bridgette Radebe
  4. Irene Charnley
  5. Wendy Ackerman
  6. Paul Harris
  7. Wendy Appelbaum
  8. Mark Shuttleworth
  9. Desmond Sacco
  10. Giovanni Ravazzotti
  11. Markus Jooste
  12. Gus Attridge
  13. Gerrit Thomas Ferreira
  14. Cyril Ramaphosa
  15. Adrian Gore
  16. Raymond Ackerman
  17. Michiel Le Roux
  18. Lauritz Dippenaar
  19. Jannie Mouton
  20. Stephen Saad
  21. Patrice Motsepe
  22. Allan Gray
  23. Koos Bekker
  24. Ivan Glasenberg
  25. Christoffel Wiese
  26. Johann Rupert
  27. Nicky Oppenheimer
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Watch List: 50 Top SA Black Entrepreneurs To Watch

South Africa needs more entrepreneurs to build businesses that can make a positive impact on the economy. These up-and-coming black entrepreneurs are showing how it can be done.

Nicole Crampton

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Early-stage South African entrepreneurial activity is at an all-time high of 11%, according to Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, and entrepreneurial intentions have also increased to 11.7%. With both activity and intentions growing significantly year-on-year, there are more businesses opening up around South Africa than ever before.

The increase in entrepreneurship has seen the rise of more black entrepreneurs across numerous sectors. From beauty brands to legal services and even tech start-ups, these are 50 top black entrepreneurs to watch:

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Watch List: 50 Top SA Small Businesses To Watch

Keep your finger on the pulse of the start-up space by using our comprehensive list of SA small business to watch.

Nicole Crampton

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Entrepreneurship in South Africa is at an all-time high. According to Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM), total early-stage entrepreneurial activity has increased by 4.1% to 11% in 2017/2018. This means numerous new, exciting and promising small businesses are launching and growing.

To ensure you know who the innovative trailblazers are in the start-up and small business space, here are 50 of South Africa’s top establishing companies to watch, in no particular order:

  1. Livestock Wealth
  2. The Lazy Makoti
  3. Aerobuddies
  4. Mimi Women
  5. i-Pay
  6. AfriTorch Digital
  7. Akili Labs
  8. Native Décor
  9. Aerobotics
  10. Quality Solutions
  11. EM Guidance
  12. Kahvé Road
  13. HSE Matters
  14. VA Virtual Assistant
  15. Famram Solutions and Famram Foundation
  16. BioTech Africa
  17. Brand LAIKI
  18. Plus Fab
  19. LifeQ
  20. Organico
  21. 10dot
  22. Lenoma Legal
  23. Nkukhu-Box
  24. Benji + Moon
  25. Beonics
  26. Brett Naicker Wines
  27. Khalala
  28. Legal Legends
  29. The Power Woman Project
  30. Aviro Health
  31. AnaStellar Brands
  32. Data Innovator
  33. Fo-Sho
  34. Oolala Collection Club
  35. Recomed
  36. VoiceMap
  37. ClockWork
  38. Empty Trips
  39. Vula Mobile
  40. SwiitchBeauty
  41. Pineapple
  42. The Katy Valentine Collection
  43. OfferZen
  44. KHULA
  45. Incitech
  46. Pimp my Book
  47. ART Technologies and ART Call Management
  48. Prosperiprop
  49. WAXIT
  50. The Sun Exchange
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