Wits graduates create automated pill-dispensing counter
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Johannesburg - Wits University Pharmacy graduates are ready to assist the pharmaceutical industry with automated tablet and capsule counter innovation for pharmacies.
Pharmacy graduates Mbuso Thwala and Mpho Maake trumped five other pitches and managed to secure the R100 000 in seed funding for their automated, antimicrobial-surface coated pill-dispensing innovation, Ra-Pill.
Ra-Pill is an automated, digital small-scale, countertop, tablet and capsule counter for pharmacies. It assists in the rapid and accurate counting of tablets/capsules dispensed to patients and reduces the risk of human error and the potential for contamination in the dispensing process through self-cleaning mechanisms.
Ra-Pill co-owner Maake said she was surprised their innovative idea won the start-up capital. “I did not expect it but I was super happy about it!” she said.
The initial conceptualisation and prototype development started from the graduates and three other then-students’ BPharm 3 project for Wits’ PharmApprentice programme.
The programme is in partnership with Aspen Pharmacare to facilitate pharmaceutical business leadership development and a growth mindset for entrepreneurship and innovation in pharmacy. Thwala told The Star that the group’s initial idea was rejected and they were all forced to go back to the drawing board.
“I was sitting in a chair and I started thinking about a money counter. I thought that if there’s a machine to count money, why isn’t there specific machines to count tablets and capsules,” the graduate said.
However, since early 2019, Ra-Pill’s development has been a collaborative effort. Wits University said that the self-cleaning aspect of the device was proposed by Professor Pradeep Kumar and David Bayever, from the Wits Department of Pharmacy Faculty of Health Sciences, Dr Michael Lucas in the Faculty of Engineering and the Built Environment provided inputs on how the Ra-Pill design would facilitate efficient coating of the device; the project also received financial support from Wits Department of Pharmacy and Aspen Pharmacare enabled the purchase of the materials needed for the 3D printing of the Minimum Viable Product prototype.
“Entities like Wits University or people like me and Mpho, the co-owners, all bring our individual expertise to the table. It helps a lot because we can then combine all that toward one goal,” the co-owner said. He added that finding engineers who could achieve their vision was one of Ra-Pill’s biggest challenges.
Maake and Thwala also took the innovation further and applied to Wits’ [email protected] course this year, which exposes researchers and postgraduate students to innovation and entrepreneurship.
Senior Innovation Support Manager at Wits Enterprise Anne Gabathuse congratulated the Ra-Pill team on their success so far.
“It is also exciting to see that within the university there is a continuum from entrepreneurship development at undergraduate level to the development of commercialisable products that draws on the rich and diverse research conducted at Wits,” she said.
The budding entrepreneurs plan to be making a profit on Ra-Pill within two years, but are realistic about what it will take. “We feel like we just finished the easy part. Now the hard work begins; we have to justify the funding to investors,” Thwala said.
With support from Wits Enterprise and the Wits Department of Pharmacy, the next step is to secure more funding and a partner to help them build a working prototype.