Business and University Innovation Workshop

February 16, 2016
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Our Western Cape universities are leading in South Africa and Africa. According to the QS World University Rankings 2015/2016, UCT and Stellenbosch University are the top 2 universities in Africa with UCT also being in the top 20 in the BRICS. Looking specifically at research and innovation, and patent activity of South African universities from 2009 – 2015, the four WC universities accounted for 48.6%. Stellenbosch University and UCT filed 150 PCT patents resulting in 24 spin-out companies in the same time period. Accelerate Cape Town hosted a workshop to highlight innovation at our universities, and explore how business can collaborate better and support innovation from R&D to commercialisation and spin-out companies.

The workshop was opened by Dr Chris Nhlapo, Deputy Vice-Chancellor of CPUT and Chairperson of Cape Higher Education Consortium (CHEC), where he highlighted that the higher education sector and business have a joint responsibility to drive the knowledge economy in South Africa. Piet Barnard, Director at UCT’s Research Contracts & IP Services, then focused on the innovation value chain at universities highlighting the various stages from idea generation, R&D to application preparation and commercialisation. Piet also raised the issue of funding with only 8% of funding for UCT research coming from South African business and only 1.25% coming from Western Cape companies.

Anita Nel, CEO of Innovus at Stellenbosch University, expanded further on the issue of funding as there is a gap between the funding of research, disclosure and the creation of fledgling companies, and when venture capitalists would be interested in investing. These fledgling companies need longer incubation and development, and Stellenbosch University, UCT, UWC and Wits are proposing the creation of the University Technology Fund to attract private investment, in conjunction with institutional investment.  Anita also highlighted international university technology transfer globally with examples from Cambridge University and Leuven where academics are encouraged to commercialise inventions and non-university start-ups are encouraged to co-locate at universities. Creating this ecosystem or knowledge region has been valuable in fostering innovation.

The workshop then highlighted all the innovation taking place at Stellenbosch University, UCT, UWC and Cape Peninsula University of Technology. The audience was very impressed with what’s being produced right here in Cape Town. Products such as satellites and drones at CPUT, multiple medical device products and research on AIDS/HIV and TB at UCT, acid mine drainage treatment and hydrogen fuel cell technologies at UWC, and a synthetic lung surfactant and cargo telematics for trucks at Stellenbosch University, to mention only a few.

Finally, a panel comprising of Prof Danie Visser, Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Research and Internationalisation at UCT; Danie Fölscher, WC Partner in Charge at PwC; and Phindile Tshabangu of the EDP, discussed how to strengthen the relationship between business and the universities. The outcomes of the workshop were to:

  • Create an ongoing platform for engagement with business and universities to address business problems, and determine how business can support universities through mentorship, guidance and collaboration
  • Enhance communication to create awareness of how to leverage the expertise from our universities
  • Understand the role of government and how the current legislative and regulatory environment is impacting on partnering.

Accelerate Cape Town will be continuing our focus on greater collaboration between business and universities in our Innovation Programme.

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