A troublesome horse called Emma was the catalyst which turned a high school pupil from Cape Town into an entrepreneur who started three successful businesses by her 22nd birthday. One of these businesses has changed the way race and show jumping horses around the world are treated and maintained. The second is well on its way to doing the same and with the third she aims to show that business can change lives and the impact we have on the planet.
Alexandra Miszewski, a competitive show jumper from the age of eight, was in her final year of high school when her horse, “For Emotion 5” aka Emma, developed what is usually considered a career-ending tendon injury. Traditional treatment and rehab for these injuries is expensive, has a low success rate, and was out of reach for Alex, but her research led her to a leading equine vet from the Netherlands who had developed an innovative and cost-effective system for treating tendon injuries. The Dutch Vet agreed to send a team to South Africa to help her and her horse, but only if Alex could help him roll out the technology with similar struggling horses. She duly did. A fitting response from someone who has grown up believing that obstacles are just there to be jumped over!
While the vet had been keen to make his system commercially available for some time, his priority was his busy equine practise. Alex prepared a business plan for his tendon rehabilitation system and the business: EquineTendon was borne, selling the world’s first orthotic for race-horses – in her words “a moon boot on steroids”, together with scanning technology that offers a consistent solution at a fraction of the cost of other treatments that often see the end of a horse’s racing or show jumping career.
Says Alex, “Once we had secured investors and started trading in 2016, I ran the African and Mauritius offices, and we started rolling out in Europe. Although I was less involved in the European offices from an operational side, I was still involved in the strategic decision-making. I was also studying for my Matric exams, so there was a lot going on!”
Quite an understatement from a young lady who ended up achieving straight A’s, after what she describes as a lacklustre school career where her ADHD made it hard for her to focus, and all she wanted to do was ride her horse.
Two defining moments changed her academic trajectory – first, at fifteen, a visit to Johns Hopkins School of Engineering in the US, where she was fascinated by the innovative work of the students and faculty. The second moment was after attending a University of Cape Town open day in Grade 11, where she was drawn to Actuarial Sciences but remarked to her father “you have to be unbelievable to get into that course.” His response was, “There’s no reason you can’t become unbelievable.”
“That was a pivotal conversation for me, because my dad, the son of Polish immigrants, who arrived with little, has achieved unbelievable things, all without a university degree but with an incredible work ethic. From that point on, I knew that doing well at school was the only way I would be able to study further in subjects that really fascinated me, and that ‘being unbelievable’ was possible if I put my mind to it.” Alex remarks.
With the EquineTendon business growing steadily worldwide, Alex began a degree in Business Science at UCT, which culminated with her being placed on the Dean’s List and joining the Golden Key International Honours Society. She was also accepted into the Allan Gray Orbis Foundation, which aims to promote entrepreneurship and provides bursaries and support to students who have the potential to become high-impact entrepreneurs. In her second year at UCT, inspired by her same horse’s injuries, she enlisted the help of top vets and scientists to start her second business – Regenesis-Vet, another ground-breaker.
Regenesis-Vet has developed the world’s first and only commercially available systemic regenerative treatment through a unique system of processing horses own blood. The technology separates the horse’s blood into its individual components and then isolates and harvests a cascade of specific growth factors from the horses own blood to extract the healing factors. From this a serum is extracted which is rich in targeted growth factors, and which can be injected back into the horse or frozen and stored for later use. This serum dramatically increases the body’s ability to heal itself after injury and improves the horse’s muscle tone and overall condition, as evidenced by the positive reviews of the products from members of the racing and show-jumping fraternities.
Unlike blood-doping, the Regenesis System does not influence or increase the level of oxygenated blood to enhance athletic performance. Rather, it works over a much longer time period to drastically improve the body’s ability to heal itself naturally.
After buying out the remaining shareholders in Regenesis Vet in early 2021, Alex enlisted the help of leading biomedical scientist Dr Judey Pretorius (PhD Pharmaceutical Chemistry) to further develop and improve the system. In addition to this, Dr Judey and Alex are working towards developing the technology even further for use in the Private Healthcare sector.
With EquineTendon and Regenesis-Vet both performing well, and soon to start her third and final year at UCT, the harsh reality of gender-based violence in South Africa hit close to home. A horse riding friend and Nene Mrwetyana were brutally murdered in August and September 2019 – both cases which sparked massive outrage around the country.
She says, “It was a really bad time for me, for the first time in my life I felt real hopelessness. A few months prior I had lost my best horse on the operating table, then both Nene and Megan were murdered, and not long after that I also lost my best friend to suicide. Both my businesses were doing well, but helping horse owners, especially in racing and show-jumping where people are typically very privileged wasn’t enough for me anymore. I needed to do something to give hope, both to myself and to people in South Africa, often women and children, so badly effected by violence and poverty.”
And so her 3rd business, Novita Biotechnology, was founded in February 2020, at the age of 21. Compared to EquineTendon and Regenesis-Vet, Novita’s products are simple from a technology point of view, mostly based on Hyaluronic Acid, which is widely used in the aesthetic sphere and as an effective treatment for arthritis in both people and animals.
What makes Novita different though, is its business model. “For me, Novita is a vehicle for creating hope, and it achieves this through the sale of affordable niche healthcare products in the Orthopaedic, Aesthetic, Veterinary and Ophthalmology spheres. Around 30% of our profits are directed towards social initiatives for people, pets and the planet – my own take on the triple bottom line. For people, we will be using our products for the facial reconstructions of gender-based violence victims as well as burn victims. In terms of pets, we want to reduce the number of arthritis-related euthanasia’s by working with animal welfare organisations. For the planet, we want to be carbon negative, removing more carbon than we emit into the atmosphere through planting trees and other initiatives.”
“When you buy from Novita, you are buying so much more than just the product. You are buying a new face for a woman or child affected by gender-based violence or the terrible burns that often happen when people live in poverty. You are giving an animal a second chance, and you will make a difference to our planet. You are buying hope.”
Novita’s flagship product is Synotech, an injectable hyaluronic acid treatment for arthritis currently in use in private healthcare and veterinary healthcare. In Aesthetic Medicine, Novita has a number of products including Mesofix-Boost, an injectable hydrating skin booster, and Mesofix-Bright, which is used for more superficial skin rejuvenation. Novita is also currently collaborating with Regenesis-Vet to develop a unique burn and wound treatment that combines platelets with hyaluronic acid, both known to be beneficial for burns and wounds. All Novitas products are classified as medical devices and held under its license with the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA).
When Novita concluded its first year of trading in June 2021, it did so with a turnover that comfortably exceeded R1-million – remarkable for a start-up at the best of times, but truly astonishing considering the current economic situation. But what is it that turns a young woman, albeit with a brilliant mind for business, into a multi-business owning high-flyer at the age of just 22? For Alex, it was her association with the Allan Gray Orbis Foundation, where she is currently a Candidate Fellow.
She says, “My journey with the Orbis Foundation started when I was at UCT and was selected to join the fellowship programme. It was a game-changer for me when I was a student and continues to be now that I have graduated. I am surrounded by a group of business coaches and mentors that push me out of my comfort zone and are so dedicated to helping me win that it almost becomes impossible to lose! I am immensely grateful for the opportunities the Foundation has given me and the many other young people that are part of it.”
So, what does the future hold for Alex? Great things, clearly. At present, Alex is completing her Masters of Finance degree, specialising in Investment management at the UCT Graduate school of business. Going forward, her focus is on building Novita so that its contribution to people, pets and the planet is fully maximised. Since buying out her partners in Regenesis Vet, she is looking forward to developing the system further and exploring international markets. In addition to this, Alex and Dr Judey are looking forward to developing the technology further for use in the private healthcare sphere.
With the emphasis in global horse racing and show jumping on “clean sports” and the worldwide move towards affordable and accessible healthcare, she is excited about what the future holds for Regenesis Vet, Novita and EquineTendon.
Somehow, she still finds time to compete as a showjumper on Emma, the horse that started it all.
For more on Alex’s businesses, visit:
Facebook: Novita Biotechnology