Two Wits pharmacy graduates secured R100 000 in seed funding for their automated antimicrobial pill-dispensing innovationMbuso Thwala and Mpho Maake secured the top prize of R100 000 in seed funding for their automated antimicrobial-surface coated pill-dispensing innovation, Ra-Pill as part of the Prospector@WITS course run by Wits Enterprise. 

Ra-Pill is an automated, digital small-scale, countertop, tablet and capsule counter for pharmacies

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.  

The Ra-Pill innovation trumped five other pitches with its novel self-cleaning mechanism, laser counting accuracy, and antimicrobial coating.  

This achievement builds on the success of the initial conceptualisation and prototype development of Ra-Pill, from their BPharm 3 project for the PharmApprentice programme. The initial Ra-Pill student group (Mbuso Thwala, Mpho Maake, Zinitha Mahlangu, Nabeelah Lambat, and Salehah Moola) received second place in 2019. The PharmApprentice programme is implemented by the Division of Pharmacy Practice, in partnership with Aspen Pharmacare to facilitate pharmaceutical business leadership development and a growth mindset for entrepreneurship and innovation in pharmacy.  

Mbuso Thwala and Mpho Maake’s Ra-Pill was recognised for its novel self-cleaning mechanism, laser counting accuracy, and the antimicrobial coating of the device.

Mbuso Thwala and Mpho Maake’s Ra-Pill was recognised for their novel self-cleaning mechanism, laser counting accuracy, and antimicrobial coating of the device.

Since early 2019, during the PharmApprentice programme, Ra-Pill’s development has been a collaborative effort, demonstrating Wits’ emphasis on nurturing innovation and entrepreneurship. Maake and Thwala, decided to take the innovation further and applied to participate in the Prospector@WITS course this year. The course exposes researchers and postgraduate students to innovation and entrepreneurship, focuses their attention on better appreciating end users’ needs, and raises awareness of the journey towards successfully commercialised products and services based on their research.  

Both Maake and Thwala, who graduated from Wits with a Bachelor of Pharmacy degree in 2020, agree that the PharmApprentice programme geared them toward success in the Prospector@WITS course.   

Maake was surprised that their innovative idea won. ‘‘I did not expect it, but I was super happy about it,” she said.   

The budding entrepreneurs plan to be making a profit within the next two years. However, they 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 the investors,” said Thwala.  

With support from Wits Enterprise and the Wits Department of Pharmacy, the next step is to secure further funding and a partner to help them build a working prototype.  

Dr Stavros Nicolaou (Group Senior Executive: Strategic Trade at Aspen Pharmacare) has supported the PharmApprentice programme from its inception, through the provision of a series of commercialisation lectures, sponsorship of prizes, and entrepreneurial mentorship. “It lays the foundation for aspiring pharmacists to embrace entrepreneurship. Aspen is committed to youth empowerment and economic growth, and the PharmApprentice programme builds business capability among pharmacy graduates.”