Botanica is an award-winning natural skin care business with double-digit growth

We had a chance to catch up with Will Coetsee, Managing Director of Botanica Natural Products, South Africa. Part of the Hivos sponsored Green Pioneer Accelerator, the Botanica team engaged in an intensive acceleration program hosted by our partners Impact Amplifier in Cape Town, South Africa. Check out their VC4Africa venture profile to find out more.

Please pitch your business:

“Botanica is an award-winning natural skin care business with double-digit growth since inception. Botanica is the first and only company to develop an extract from the indigenous South African plant, Bulbine frutescens. The product is sold to cosmetic producers in South Africa, West Africa and Europe.”

What inspired you to start this?

“Coming from a remote, rural area of Limpopo Province in South Africa, where the unemployment and HIV rates are the highest in the country, and where 80% of people live below the poverty line, we decided to establish a triple bottom line business which could enhance the lives of everyone involved.

We realised that South Africa has a vast amount of untapped potential in its abundant medicinal plants and traditional knowledge. So Botanica sought to identify and cultivate an indigenous plant, which could have a significant positive effect on the community, the local economy and all stakeholders involved in the project.”

What problem are you solving?

“Globally, skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis and acne are the fourth leading cause of non-fatal disease burden (World Health Organisation, 2001). Skin diseases have a significant impact on quality of life and although mortality rates are generally lower than for other conditions, there is a real need for effective, affordable and organic remedies for skin conditions.

Botanica’s mission is to improve skin health by promoting the use of indigenous South African plants and traditional knowledge.”

Can you describe your target market? What is the size of business opportunity?

“To date, Botanica has mainly targeted and sold its products to the South African and West African cosmetic markets. However, we are seeking to expand into the US and European markets where demand for organically certified and natural active ingredients is large. In 2015, the natural personal care market is expected to grow to $6.7 billion in 2015.”

What is the innovation you bring about? What is the impact opportunity?

“Botanica produces an innovative active ingredient, which is proven to have a powerful soothing and healing effect when applied to the skin or hair. The active ingredient is added into formulations of existing products as well as new product ranges.

Botanica provides a source of income to 25 staff from a remote, rural part of Limpopo. Seventy percent are previously unemployed mothers who earn a good living wage, receive access to medical care and family planning support. This positively impacts more than 120 people in the local community. Botanica has minimised its carbon footprint by planting 250,000 Spekboom trees, which capture carbon dioxide and converts it to oxygen 24 hours a day. Botanica’s organic production methods ensure the preservation of biodiversity. By scaling the business, impact initiatives will be scaled accordingly.”

Please highlight what has been achieved so far. What are the key milestones?

“Botanica has generated more than R3 million (USD 250K) of revenue from customers in 18 countries. Revenue has grown by more than 50% annually, and is expected to grow at 30% for the next 3 years.

In 2014, Botanica won the Indigenous Plant Use Forum’s (IPUF) Indigenous Plant Product of the Year Award for the development of Bulbine Frutescens leaf juice as BotanicaTIMOLA®. The company was also awarded the South African SEED Award for an exceptional social enterprise with an innovative product from a rural area.

In January 2015, Botanica was selected: as one of 12 participants in the Green Pioneer Accelerator Programme offered by Impact Amplifier, HIVOS, Growth Africa and VC4Africa.

Botanica has been selected as one of 13 South African participants in the Dutch Government’s CBI Cosmetic Export Coaching Program for 2015 – 2018. This program guides participants to successfully introduce their products in to the European markets.

Botanica signed an exclusive supply agreement with a major Swiss cosmetics producer. According to the agreement, they will conduct clinical trials to verify the efficacy of the active ingredient and purchase minimum quantities of product for the next 2 years.

In April 2015, Botanica was selected as one of five finalists for the Most Innovative Business Award in the 2015 GrowthAfrica South African SMME Awards.

Botanica was awarded as a SEED Accelerator winner for 2015. This means that Botanica will receive an advanced support package that stretches over a period of one year and includes one-to-one advice as well as a financial contribution. The SEED Accelerator in South Africa is made possible through the support of the Government of Flanders.”

Why did you join the Green Pioneer Accelerator and how are you leveraging this Program?

“Botanica has a proven concept, excellent infrastructure and a well-trained team. The company has existing customers in South Africa, West Africa and Europe, but has not achieved break-even.
Botanica attended the SEED Africa Symposium in Nairobi, Kenya and attended the launch of the Green Pioneer Accelerator. After learning that the Green Pioneer Accelerator focused on early state enterprises, we felt that it would be the right fit for Botanica to become market proof and investment ready.

The GPA Program has provided us with a unique opportunity to benefit from expert mentoring on how to develop and position our business in the marketplace and how to secure additional investment. It has also provided an invaluable opportunity to network with like-minded African social entrepreneurs.”

Where could you use additional support? How can the members of the VC4A Community help you?

“The VC4Africa community provides a number of worthwhile opportunities, including mentoring and networking opportunities. Continued mentoring and support during the phase of scaling up the business would be beneficial.”

Do you have an ask for investors? What are you looking for? 

“Botanica is seeking a R6 million (USD 500K) investment to scale the business and unlock the commercial value of EU, US and African markets. Botanica has raised R7 million (USD 550K) grant investment to date.”

What is your advice to other startup entrepreneurs out there?

“Firstly, ensure the goals you set for your business endeavour are achievable. Secondly, build a strong support network – family, friends, colleagues, mentors – having trusted people to share and bounce ideas off helps immeasurably. Finally, don’t give up. Persist in realising your dream!”

What do you feel needs to happen to spur more innovation in green?

“Green innovation requires a culture that encourages people to think in unusual and creative ways. Greater community awareness is necessary as is a more open dialogue between the public and private spheres about the problems and factors affecting different environments and sectors of the community. It is only when we start talking about the problems that we can find solutions.”

Any final message to add?

“It has been a pleasure to be associated with the Green Pioneer Accelerator Program as well as its partners Impact Amplifier, Hivos and VC4A. We believe that responsibility accompanies any award or privilege that we receive. Therefore, we would like to engage with any of VC4Africa’s stakeholders to assist in any way that we can. If there are any questions that you may have about the Green Pioneer Accelerator Program or our company, please feel free to contact us through this portal. Also feel free to follow us on Facebook or on Twitter.”

Part of the Hivos sponsored Green Pioneer Accelerator, the Botanica team engaged in an intensive acceleration program hosted by our partners Impact Amplifier in Cape Town, South Africa. Check out their VC4Africa venture profile to find out more.