Natural success: TuksNovation helps UP students turn passion for medicinal plant science into skincare business

Posted on January 28, 2021

A start-up company founded by two postgraduate University of Pretoria (UP) students, incubated by UP’s TuksNovation business incubator, and using natural ingredients licensed to UP, is starting to turn heads in the natural skincare products market.

As a little girl, Isa Lambrechts would often visit the Blyde River Canyon with her family, making many happy memories there. Little did she know that one day she and fellow student Bianca Payne would start a business based on their joint passion for plants and their medicinal properties, and that Blyde Botanics would begin its mission to make clients happy with easy-to-use active ingredients (natural ingredients scientifically proven to rejuvenate and nourish the skin at cellular level) used in the formulation of natural skincare solutions.

“I always really enjoyed Science in school, and wanted to become a perfumer one day,” Lambrechts, who’s currently completing her PhD in Medicinal Plant Science at UP, says. “In my second year of a BSc, I heard about a third-year subject that sounded interesting, and I fell in love with Medicinal Plant Science. I got accepted as a postgraduate student under the supervision of Professor Namrita Lall in UP’s Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, and my PhD has focused on an indigenous South African Plectranthus species, that is part of the lavender family, to treat acne vulgaris and antibiotic resistance associated with the disease.” 

Payne, a fellow PhD candidate at UP, also always knew she wanted to pursue a career in the sciences, and developed a passion for microbiology in the first year of her BSc. In her final year she was introduced to Phytomedicine. “After completing the first practical session, I knew that I had found my calling,” she says. “My postgraduate academic career has led me to specialise in the molecular processes that lead to ageing skin, and how medicinal plants can stop this process to keep us looking as young as possible, for as long as possible!

UP’s TuksNovation is a business incubator and accelerator that supports postgraduate students who are smart innovators in finding solutions to real challenges.

What then prompted the decision for these promising scientists to start a business? “Our supervisor, Prof Lall, is extremely passionate about translating research to end-user products,” the duo explains. “Numerous formulating companies approached her regarding suppliers of natural ingredients. After some research it became clear that not many cosmetic ingredient producers were taking advantage of the therapeutic potential that South Africa’s rich plant biodiversity has to offer. We were receiving very good clinical data, and realised that there was an opportunity to provide natural ingredients with real science and safety data to back the claims, and therapeutic efficacy that cosmetic products can offer the end-user.”

Having heard about UP’s TuksNovation business incubator and accelerator (which supports postgraduate students who are smart innovators in finding solutions to real challenges) at a UP entrepreneurial day in 2018, Isa and Bianca pitched their idea to the incubator and, despite their lack of business background, TuksNovation saw their product potential and the incubation of Blyde Botanics started at the end of 2018. “They jumped right in and equipped us with the necessary tools to start our company, from providing us with a stellar business mentor and industry expert, Mr Gerrie Mostert, through to helping us network, developing our brand, starting our website, and getting the necessary contracts and documentation in place, to name but a few things. We have also received seed funding from TuksNovation that is going towards manufacturing our first batch and creating new avenues for obtaining larger funding.”

Christi Auret, TuksNovation’s Acting Commercialisation Manager, says that what struck their team about the Blyde Botanics partners has been their enthusiasm, eagerness to learn, and determination. “They attended every Masterclass workshop and entrepreneurial talk we hosted and always went beyond what was required with their business development research. Business development is a discipline and a subject on its own, and being willing to work hard and learn from those with experience is what can make all the difference. They also believe wholeheartedly in their product, and that is a critical ingredient for entrepreneurial success.”

Lambrechts and Payne are honest about the challenges their business journey has posed thus far. From struggling to obtain funding, to getting a foot in the door with the right clients, they have realised that it takes a bucketload of grit to deal with the rejections and failures. They’ve learnt that it’s important to celebrate the small victories along the way to help survive the difficult times. “We are extremely grateful for each other and the ability to play on each other’s strengths and weaknesses; as well as having someone to do a power stance with!” Lambrechts says.

As for what’s next for Blyde Botanics, Payne says they are looking to sign their first client very soon, having received positive feedback for their active ingredients from potential clients. With a vision to establish their own manufacturing facility in the future and make Blyde Botanics a name that formulators associate with trusted scientifically tested actives, one can only predict a very happy future ahead for these science-preneurs!

Keen to start a business? Blyde Botanics weighs in with some advice:

  1. Starting a business is a long-term goal. Find yourself a good mentor that will help you accomplish this.
  2. Not every idea is a viable business. You need to distinguish yourself from what already exists, and be confident in your business. If you need to deviate from your original vision, do it.
  3. Criticism is not meant to hurt your feelings; there is a lesson in everything.

Blyde Botanics Pty (Ltd) is a business-to-business plant extract manufacturing company focused on the sustainable supply of indigenous actives to formulators and cosmetic brand owners. Their current targeted product range includes three proprietary active ingredients for applications in acne (Actify), ageing (Wrinkless) and periodontal health (NatalFresh). These natural ingredients have been scientifically proven to work at the University of Pretoria according to internationally published methods, and have novel mechanisms of action that differentiate them from their competitors. Find out more at

- Author Nicole Cameron

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