Ashley Uys does not settle. Armed with a persistent determination and a refusal to conform to the status quo, the 33-year old biotechnologist has emerged as one of South Africa’s most successful entrepreneurs. He’s discreet in manner, an observant and curious mind. Merging his passion for science and keen business instincts with a desire to address issues facing impoverished communities, he’s always had a knack for seeing the bigger picture.
Ashley is responsible for the development of a series of innovative diagnostic kits that are accessible, reliable and – most importantly – affordable. On a continent where hundreds of thousands of lives are claimed by Malaria every year, his groundbreaking tests are a lifesaver for many.
Just 24-years old when he started his first business, it was the Malaria test that put him on the map. Its low cost means that remote communities most at risk are able to diagnose themselves. “You can imagine the point of care in a rural area,” he explains. “We can’t expect farm workers to stand in line at a day hospital all day for diagnostics.”
Hailed by Forbes as one of Africa’s top entrepreneurs, Ashley’s work is providing solutions for communities in crisis. Hailing from Belhar in Cape Town, it was the rampant drug abuse around him that first inspired him to move into diagnostics. “The fact that I can develop products that impact socially is part of my love for science,” he admits.
His lab is pristine, all stark spaces and clean lines. A smiling woman at the front desk greets you upon entry – she is later identified as Ashley’s mom. “My mother works for me,” he smiles. “I call her Desiree at work, and then after hours I call her mom.” So, after 6 you call her mom? “No, not that late – after half-past-four,” he laughs.
Ashley has the clear disposition of a formidable businessman; focused and self-aware, he lends as much importance to his failures as he does his success. “It’s important that an entrepreneur go through a struggle,” he notes. “I’ve never heard of one that had smooth sailing ideas. I believe entrepreneurs are the guys that stick it out.”
Leaving the lab – admittedly his comfort zone – and taking his place in front of the camera on a dusty road in Hout Bay, he listens intently to each instruction from the photographer. You can almost see him turn each direction over in his mind, every movement highly considered – a habit that has evidently served him well throughout his career.
A warm tone characterising most of his speech, it becomes stern when he speaks of the possibilities he sees for Africa. He is adamant that through innovation we will become competitors on a global scale, his faith resting firmly in the potential of Africa’s people. It is the quiet, unsung pioneers like Ashley who will move our country toward greatness – but he doesn’t seem to think he’s quite there yet. Laughing, he says, “I’m still too young to be great.”