22 October 2019 | Story Leonie Bolleurs | Photo Supplied
Christoper Rothman
Awarded joint runner-up position at this year’s Entrepreneurship Intervarsity was Christopher Rothmann. Talking about the name of the company he entered, LiquidCulture, he said culture is what they hope to inspire with their product; a shared way of life.

With the mission of representing the UFS and LiquidCulture on a national platform, Christopher Rothmann entered this year’s national Entrepreneurship Intervarsity competition, supported by Entrepreneurship Development in Higher Education (EDHE), in collaboration with the Allan Gray Orbis Foundation.

Rothmann, a final-year PhD Biotechnology student at the University of the Free State, was awarded joint runner-up position in the Existing Tech Business category. According to Dr Norah Clarke, Director: Entrepreneurship at Universities South Africa and the Department of Higher Education and Training, second places were not announced or awarded in any other category, but based on the particularly small difference between the judges’ scores for the top-three finalists in this category, together with the high quality of the top-three businesses, an exception was made in this category.

All 26 public universities were represented in the 1155 entries received, with the top 16 universities represented by 27 finalists in the national finals.

The birth of Liquid Culture

Using the opportunity to showcase his entrepreneurship and innovative ideas, Rothmann entered the company LiquidCulture (LC).

He explained: “The company was started by me and Dr Errol Cason in the UFS Department of Microbial, Biochemical and Food Biotechnology. We produce yeast in its purest liquid form. LC is the only company in Africa to do so. Our yeast is mainly used by breweries for the fermentation of beer.”

They have since also branched out to the baking and distillery industries.

“We started LC in 2018 because we are brewers with our own commercial brewery (Kraft Brewing Co, formerly known as Kovsie Brewing). We realised that with our background as microbiologists we can grow our own yeast, have a better-quality product, and save money while we expand our choice of yeast strains to use,” he said. 

Soon other breweries became interested in using their yeast and LiquidCulture was born, supplying a few places in the Bloemfontein area at first and then branching out to over 50 breweries nationwide.

One of the aims of this year’s Entrepreneurship Intervarsity Competition was for universities to demonstrate their entrepreneurial talent and the ways in which they support and grow the next generation of business leaders.

The university played a role in the development of LC. Rothmann stated: “We were very fortunate to have the UFS Directorate of Research Development helping us. They provided mentors and business advisers. They also assisted in getting funds from the Technology Innovation Agency (TIA), which gave us the financial push to get us to where we are now. The institution has therefore been central to the success of LC.”

LC is also using the facilities in the UFS Department of Microbiology, Biochemistry and Food Biotechnology. They have a royalty-based partnership agreement with the university where the UFS receives royalties for each of the unique strains that LC commercialises. In return, LC pay rent for using the UFS lab and equipment.

Refilwe Mogale
Refilwe Mogale, PhD (Chemistry) student, was elected as national co-convener of the EDHE Studentpreneurs
Community of Practice. (Photo: Anja Aucamp)

Aspiring towards entrepreneurship 

Participating in the competition, Rothmann enjoyed being surrounded by like-minded individuals who aspire to entrepreneurship. “The passion displayed by all of the contestants was really motivational and showed tremendous bravery,” he said. 

He was requested to present LiquidCulture’s case at the EDHE Lekgotla in 2020, as an example of best practice of a university-supported approach to starting and growing a business. 

Also taking part in the competition from the UFS, was fourth-year LLB student, Grace MthembuF. She entered a project on organic heat – a safer design for household fires (imbawulas). This concept got her through to the finals. 

Dr Clarke said only six of the 27 finalists in the Entrepreneurship Intervarsity were women. Female students must overcome several additional barriers to start and run a business. She requested the UFS to investigate ways of encouraging and supporting female students to start and grow businesses.

Also supporting the competition was Refilwe Mogale, PhD (Chemistry) student. She was elected as national co-convener of the EDHE Studentpreneurs Community of Practice.

“We believe that the UFS will continue to equip studentpreneurs and young business leaders of the future for their challenging task,” Dr Clark said. 

Grace Mthembu
Fourth-year LLB student, Grace Mthembu, made it to the finals with her project on organic heat. 
(Photo: Anja Aucamp)

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