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  • Jabulile Sonya Ngwenya

Improving Food Security For All Drives BioAge On To Success

Almost a year ago, BioAge founder Reuben Riley Rampersad pitched his agri-biotech startup, BioAge to investors during the 2023 AfricArena Johannesburg Deep Tech, Hardware, Enterprise and Climate Tech Summit and he won the AfricArena Best Seed Startup Award. 

Smiling at the memory, Rampersad tells AfricArena that winning this award set the stage for future success as “the AfricArena process in 2023 helped to streamline the business structure, ensuring mobility within the business plan and enabled the development of a vertical approach to market penetration.” 

This new streamlined process helped BioAge to go on and win the 2023 GreenPitch Challenge and place second in the 2023 Green Youth Indaba Green Innovator’s Challenge. 

Rampersad says BioAge, which is an abbreviation for Biological Agriculture Era is “an agri-biotech company with a vision of fusing science and agriculture to provide a pathway that alleviates food poverty and stimulates societal and economic transformation. Through the scientific innovation, BioAge has been able to develop sustainable ‘molecular fertilizer’ that are specifically geared to interact with the plant on an intracellular level to augment physiological processes which then exert morphological differences through a process of re-engineering plant growth, without the addition of nocuous chemicals.” 

This startup’s success is evident in their popular, 100% organic products, most notably Nitro-Gro, a powerful organic fertiliser enriched with essential nutrients (NPK), free amino acids, peptides, and polysaccharides in a blend that triggers significant physiological and morphological responses in plants.

We all know that passion is a main ingredient in building and driving a startup forward to achieve its goals and make an impact on people’s lives - and BioAge is no exception to this. “I am passionate about what I do because I know I make a difference in the lives of people,” says Rampersad. “It's the difference at the starting point of food security that can have a positive knock on effect and lead to greater changes in society.”

He shares how reading a Marcus Aurelius quote, “What we do in life echoes in eternity” during high school in 2012 “ignited the passion for wanting to do more with life”. Fast forward a few years later to 2021, Rampersad tells AfricArena that BioAge was born during his field studies for his Masters of Science in the Eastern Cape during 2021 where he witnessed the challenges local farmers experienced, and “the biggest challenge was the lack of access to the value chain, specifically fertilizers.” 

This experience, says Rampersad, inspired him to “create a company that specialized in novel fertilizers and that equalized the landscape so that all farmers could gain access.”

Levelling the playing field for farmers is very important to Rampersad who usually starts his day with prayer, followed by a gym session before travelling to the office where he first studies the workflow for the day and follows up with customers. “Customer relations is a massive factor for BioAge,” he points out. “We always ensure that we follow up or visit our clients.” Very wise words for any startup to heed, as the power of sales is in the follow up. Rampersad adds that once operations for the day have been sorted, he focuses on the research and development side of the business. 

With many startups and investors navigating the current funding winter, Rampersad says BioAge hasn’t as of yet received funding - “We are bootstrapping.” However, Rampersad tells AfricArena this will change soon as “in 2024, we are looking to raise US$ 5.2 million. This will be used to facilitate a factory to operational stability, reduction of cost, market expansion, increasing our footprint across Africa and to fund future product developments.”

Being an agritech-biotech startup within the competitive green economy sector is no walk in the park. BioAge, says Rampersad, has faced many challenges, the biggest being “validation of product for market access as BioAge was a new player into a higher competitive and saturated market space fighting for price points rather than environmental sustainability. The process of getting commercial farmers to understand the product has been significantly difficult, however we have been able to overcome these challenges through perseverance.”

Rampersad shares that the best advice he received from a mentor about BioAge as he started out in the agritech sector and green economy were the following words: “It might not be significant right now, but with the hard work and time it’s going to change the face of agriculture.”

BioAge is certainly changing the face of agriculture, even if it is through one customer at a time. When farmers see the results BioAge’s organic products bring, transforming their crops, word of mouth spreads. 

Pondering how far BioAge has come, Rampersad says the main ingredient that has allowed his startup to expand to where they are today is “a resilient team that shares the same vision.” 

He tells AfricArena that the one advice he would give to founders interested in building an agritech or green economy startup is to “focus on a product and make a difference - that fuels passion. If you are just doing it for money, then you aren't going to go far especially when the challenges come.”

He also says, don’t be afraid of change and don’t hold back on that dream or idea because you’re scared. “Change starts when you decide to turn the idea into a concept and a concept into reality. Just always plan yourself and define your problem clearly.”

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