Healing power of nature

PE scientist chosen as finalist in competition for entrepreneurs aims to help others

Nomahlubi Nazo is a finalist in the FemBioBiz competition for her collagen-based bio-polymer, which is made from fish scales and can be used to treat wounds
Nomahlubi Nazo is a finalist in the FemBioBiz competition for her collagen-based bio-polymer, which is made from fish scales and can be used to treat wounds
Image: Africa Women Innovation & Entrepreneurship

She has found a way to heal wounds and scars using fish scales, and now Nomahlubi Nazo hopes these scales will also bring new hope for unemployed graduates in the Bay.

Nazo, 35, a scientist from Port Elizabeth, has been chosen as one of the 10 finalists for the Nepad Sanbio African Women Innovation and Entrepreneurship Forum’s FemBioBiz competition, aimed at biosciences entrepreneurs in the SADC region.

Nazo said she was representing both Port Elizabeth and South Africa in the second round of the competition, set to start next week in Cape Town.

KwaDwesi-born Nazo impressed the judges with a biopolymer that can heal wounds and prevent infection.

The substance is made by extracting the collagen from fish scale waste and adding essential oils.

“With fish scales you can extract up to 96% of the collagen without changing its integrity,” Nazo said.

“You can also get collagen from cows, pigs and chickens, but bird flu was a concern with chickens and some people might have religious concerns about using collagen from pigs or cows.”

Nazo said she had been offered fish scale waste from a local fishery for the products.

“For the first batch, I was still in Cape Town [where I studied my master’s degree] so I was given fish scale waste from a factory that produces canned pilchards.”

The idea for this gelatin-like substance first came to Nazo when she was pregnant with her first child.

“At the time I was thinking of doing my master’s, and I was self-conscious of my body [and my Caesarean scar].

“I wanted to develop a biopolymer from marine waste. Eventually I thought of the cosmetic uses and wound care.

“The gooey substance creates a moist environment for a wound, protects it from bacteria and feeds the cells.”

The next step was to enter the FemBioBiz competition.

“I actually quit my job last year and entered a competition by the Department of Science and Technology, where I was given a mentor after reaching the top 15.

“She told me of other competitions I could enter.”

The 10 finalists will take part in a bootcamp next week and again next month to pitch their ideas to judges before the top three are selected later this year.

Nazo said she entered competitions in the hope of funding her own business.

“I want to open a factory here in Port Elizabeth, without having to take out a loan.

“It is important for me to do it here, because of the province’s high rate of unemployed graduates.

“I studied chemistry but still had to work in a call centre.

“We have many skilled people, but there aren’t enough companies here to absorb them, and not everyone thinks about creating jobs for themselves and others rather than looking for work.”

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