Successful student-run biotechnology empire creates jobs

05 January 2018 - 07:30 By Jessica Evans
Charles Faul and Lucas Lӧtter Akili Labs.
Charles Faul and Lucas Lӧtter Akili Labs.
Image: Supplied.

Students make money in many ways, but a student-run business venture as successful as this is unheard of. 

Masters students in Rhodes University’s Biotechnology department, Charles Faul and Lucas Lӧtter, founded Akili Labs.  It was started to create job opportunities in biotechnology and produces nootropic supplements and medical prototypes. 

Akili Labs has made a name for itself by winning an award at the Gauteng Accelerator Programme.  The success of Akili Labs attracted investments and the business is flourishing further. 

Becoming a success was not easy, says Lӧtter: “My business partner and I started it all, funded it bit by bit, worked hard in the lab to produce capsules and finally could show investors some products. And till today together we do 99% of the work that is required to keep the business running.” 

Despite the business’ success, Lӧtter says that his Master’s has been suffering but highlights the importance of the business in his life: “The business takes preference still and that is because it is my future.”  Lӧtter emphasises the importance of excellent time management (he follows a strict, personalized, hour-by-hour daily timetable) and tight budgeting but adds that “a willingness to learn” is vital. 

He also advises teaming up with others who possess the skills you may lack, in a mutually beneficial partnership.  Working in a partnership provides its own challenges but Faul says: “you can do it and you can have a healthy balance, just trust in your team.”  With prototypes going to Japan and Canada, exposure, perseverance and networking are key according to Lӧtter and Faul. 

One of the team’s most successful projects is FieldLab – a medical diagnostics kit in a box.  It is portable and powered by solar power, making it ideal for fieldwork and medical diagnoses in remote areas. 

Understandably this is very daunting to read, but Faul has some advice: “You must always know every single thing there is to know about what you do, even regulations and things that don’t seem obvious, and always keep learning. We faced challenges in the fact that our business is so interdisciplinary, however, we kept learning and eventually we learnt what we need to know to do what we needed to do.”  And you can do the same. 

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