‘I identified a gap in the market with a social impact’ – Ashley Uys
Name of company: Medical Diagnostech (Pty) Ltd, Real World Diagnostics and OculusID
Years in existence: 4
Position: Founder and Managing Director
Can you tell us a little bit about your background – personal, educational and professional?
I grew up in Belhar, Cape Town, and studied Biotechnology at the University of the Western Cape. I completed my BSc. Honours Degree in Biotechnology and then worked at the University of Cape Town’s Institute for Infectious Disease and Molecular Medicine as a researcher on the HIV virus. I decided in 2006 to establish my first company.
Can you tell us a little bit about your company and what you do?
I established three companies, Real World Diagnostics in 2006, Medical Diagnostech in 2010, and OculusID in 2013. Real World Diagnostic is a marketing and distribution company for medical diagnostic test kits like rapid HIV tests etc. Medical Diagnostech is a manufacturer of medical diagnostic test kits for drug of abuse, HIV, malaria, pregnancy, and ovulation. OculusID specialises in the development of biometric solutions with impairment and disease detection by analysing the pupil of the eye’s response to light.
“The entrepreneur’s character is key to success”
How did your journey begin and how have you achieved success so far?
I’ve identified a gap in the market with a social impact as well, i.e. a need for high quality diagnostic test kits to be manufactured in Africa for Africa. I decided to import and distribute products first to acquire market share and minimise my risk. I therefore generated revenue to eventually setup a manufacturing facility with a client base already established.
Has it been difficult? What were some of the obstacles you face and how did you overcome them?
Cash flow was the first obstacle. I established my first business at the age of 24. This of course was an obstacle on its own, i.e. no significant personal/business profile and lack of experience. My distribution model reduced risk and generated revenue prior to investing in a manufacturing facility. I also entered business competitions to build my personal/business profile.
How many people does your company employ?
My companies employ 35 people.
What is your overall vision for your business?
Our overall vision is to become a global leader in diagnostic innovations with first-to-world products and to have a presence on every continent.
What do you think it takes to establish and run a successful business in South Africa?
The entrepreneur’s character is key to success, i.e. determination and good instinct in identifying opportunities and realising the risks in executing strategy to maximise reward. One must have a sense of good ‘guestimation’.
How did you finance your business, how difficult or easy was the process?
I’ve applied for DTI and IDC grant funding, negotiated credit terms with my customers and suppliers to ease cash flow, and found cash cow products to import and distribute.
What are the three things you attribute your business success to?
Understanding my market, research and development capabilities, and knowing how to effectively manage cash flow.
When did you know that you were an entrepreneur?
From my teenage years already, I always enjoyed working with my dad during school holidays to save up so that I could procure assets for the next step. Then it was for a welder and grinder so that I could make gates and burglar bars.
How would you describe your leadership style?
Interactive as I encourage a healthy corporate culture by promoting suggestions/lateral thinking amongst our team. Incentive schemes also motivate the team to be proactive.
What are some of your favourite motivational books and motivational gurus that have inspired you in growing your business?
Steve Jobs and the movie ‘Men of Honour’, which was based on a true story.
What three pieces of advice would you offer young entrepreneurs starting out today?
Don’t try to do everything and focus on one idea, stick to your knit (what you’re good at) and know your strengths and weaknesses. Align yourself with mentors and people that can assist you in covering the risks that your weaknesses can introduce.
What’s the worst and best business advice you’ve ever received?
Best business advice; know how to spot a gap in the market and where the window-of-opportunity is. Worst business advice was that I should not to look at markets where the product gross profit percentage is less than 20%. My opinion, some products can be used as loss-leaders to get other products into market, which could bring great profits.
And finally, do you believe in luck, hard work or both?
I believe that hard work will increase your odds in getting lucky.
Picture source: Mail and Guardian