Player: Graham Rowe (30)
Company: Biped Personal Biotech
Graham Rowe is a firm believer in laying strong foundations. He followed his passion when he was choosing a degree and studied genetics, but he wasn’t interested in being an academic. He wanted to be an entrepreneur, and he wanted to revolutionise the local health industry. At the age of 30 he is now poised to do just that – thanks to a slow and steady focus on amassing the skills he would need to get his dream off the ground.
The training wheels come off
After he completed his MA in genetics, Graham turned his attention towards business. Where would he get the best business foundation? “I wanted to learn business from the inside out, and with my skills I knew research would suit me.
I joined a firm that did high-level board strategy and due diligence for private equity deals. It was an amazing apprenticeship to business best practice.”
Graham followed this exposure with a position at Hollard, which he lauds as a cutting edge, highly innovative company that supports local entrepreneurship. He also launched his own business, Biped Personal BioTech with business partner, Richard Johnson. “We started our entrepreneurial journey two and half years ago with a product called Mutt Mix, which is genetic testing for dogs,” says Graham. “This was really our ‘training wheels’ business. The product has done well and continues to grow, but we’ve learnt valuable lessons about launching a business, pricing structures and getting to market, which will all be put to use when we realise our vision of making a real difference in the health care market.”
Pursuing a dream
Richard’s background, like Graham’s, is in genetics. This, together with strong business acumen, Graham’s experience in high level strategy and Richard’s experience running a team at Accenture, has given the two-man team all the tools they need to develop a ground-breaking product.
“Medical aids in South Africa pay R85 billion per year to the health industry, 75% of which is spent on issues and medication related to chronic illnesses, which is extremely complex. The problem is that many people are on different medications, monitored by a variety of doctors. No one takes care of a holistic treatment plan, and dosages are based on accepted standards rather than the genetics of individuals.”
Graham and Richard have been researching a way to create a streamlined system that undertakes genetic tests to determine medication dosages, and captures all of a patient’s details and medical history in one place. The implications are huge, and could not only save medical aids millions, but ensure better and more affordable treatment for patients
Having developed their IP, the partners have now focused on securing finance so that they can develop a working prototype. Securing a win in the inaugural Big Break Legacy show has given Graham R5 million in start-up capital, and the team will now be able to pursue the next step in realising their vision.
“This is what entrepreneurship is really about,” says Graham. “A true entrepreneur pursues their vision, even if it sometimes seems beyond reach and they don’t have the resources they need. It’s that dogged determination that sees results, and is the reason why businesses do succeed – not because the plan was perfect and they had everything they needed to get the business off the ground, but because they saw every obstacle as an opportunity.”
Graham cites as an example the problem of red tape, which is a common cause for complaint amongst local entrepreneurs. “Yes, red tape is a problem,” he agrees. “But it’s a problem your competitors are facing too, which means if you accept the challenge and push through it, you’ve created an edge for yourself that your competitors don’t have. It’s all in the way you approach things.”
Entrepreneurship is really about creating an environment in which other people’s passions and talents can blossom. Google wasn’t founded on the backs of two men alone. It was created because two men created a setting where creativity and talent could be unleashed. Yes, we have a skills and employment crisis in South Africa — but this just means we have an ideal entrepreneurial environment. This isn’t the US where everything’s been done. There are glaring gaps wherever you look, and millions of people who, given the right opportunity, could make the most of these gaps. We’ve just got to take that risk, step out of our comfort zones, and lead others in this journey.
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“It’s easier than ever to become an entrepreneur, and technology has a lot to do with it. You’re a tech-savvy millennial, and Internet and mobile technologies make it easier to connect and identify with people, based on shared values and ideals,” says Michael Freestone, founder of the MJF Group. “All entrepreneurs wonder if their companies will succeed, but you don’t really know until you try. So, do it while you’re young and have little or nothing to lose.”
And that’s exactly what teenagers across the country are doing. While being a teenager is stressful enough, without worrying about marketing and your bottom line – these young entrepreneurs thrive on success, which must be their secret sauce to their winning business ideas.
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