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Why R&D doesn’t turn into income

Many initiatives in South Africa see entrepreneurs identified, supported and incubated, but seldom are such initiatives directed at identifying R&D results from research institutes and matching them to market needs. The Innovation Hub hopes to change this.

South Africa has been extraordinarily unsuccessful at turning innovations that have resulted from academic research into commercial opportunities. To address this need, the Innovation Hub in Pretoria has been establishing appropriate capacities and initiatives to enable it to play an enabling role in changing this.

The Innovation Hub is a subsidiary of Blue IQ, which is an agency of the Gauteng Department of Economic Development.

‚We see many initiatives countrywide where entrepreneurs are identified, supported and incubated but we seldom see initiatives directed at identifying R&D results from research institutes and higher education institutions and matching these to the market or entrepreneurs ready to take them to the market,‚ says McLean Sibanda, CEO of The Innovation Hub.

‚No-one opens R&D results up to the public and we have a huge number of shelved innovations & technologies that could assist with creating jobs, establishing new enterprises and building our economy. Most of these ideas never get to a commercialised state largely because researchers are not entrepreneurs and commercialisation requires different skills to those that create R&D results. At the end of 2009 the total number of researchers per 1000 South Africans was 1.4 * which means a lot of research is being published and then left on a shelf to gather dust,‚ he says.

The Innovation Hub, together with partners like the CSIR and others, want to help bring discoveries to the market place by giving R&D results with applied focus and social relevance a chance to be commercialised.

Many researchers want to commercialise their research results but don’t have the entrepreneurial skills to do so. The Higher Education Institutions as well as the research institutes are now establishing Offices of Technology Transfer (OTTs). Through The Innovation Hub’s incubation, entrepreneurship, skills and leadership development unit relevant partnerships with the OTTs and industry can be forged to commercialise new research results.

There is a shortage of skilled entrepreneurs in South Africa and to add to the challenges of overcoming economic obstacles, there is the problem of finding feasible and researched ideas to take to market.

The Entrepreneurship Day where entrepreneurs get to hear about and see feasible research projects intends to provide part of the solution. Government officials, research institutions, entrepreneurs and funders all gather to see the showcase of research results or projects.

As part of the Global Entrepreneurship Week taking place from 14 – 20 November 2011, The Innovation Hub is launching their road show which will culminate in this Entrepreneurship Day at The Innovation Hub on the 18th November.

‚We need entrepreneurs to help researchers take their research results and inventions to the market place. Consequently theintention of The Innovation Hub is to turn the Gauteng economy into an innovation-driven economy that is able to compete on the global stage. Part of our strategy is the staging of an Entrepreneurship Day twice a year, through which we hope to see an increase in the pipeline of high quality business ideas linked to research results, and create more networking opportunities for researchers, commercialisation partners and industry players,‚ says Sibanda.

Although commercialisation of publicly financed research results might seem to be in conflict with the ideals of independent and academically ‘pure’ scientific work, without it, new techniques or tools with the potential to save lives and find economically sustainable solutions, might remain on the proverbial shelf, collecting dust. This sentiment is echoed in the Intellectual Property Rights from Publicly Financed Research and Development Act, 2008, which seeks to ensure that intellectual property from publicly financed research, is identified, protected and commercialised to the benefit of the people of South Africa.

As part of the Entrepreneurship Week, The Innovation Hub will be visiting Further Education and Training (FET) colleges around the Gauteng province. The aim is to promote entrepreneurship as a career option, showcase entrepreneurial initiatives and technologies, tell success stories and build awareness around the promise of entrepreneurship. The road show ends with the Entrepreneurship Day on the 18th November at The Hub in Tshwane which will showcase technologies and innovations from the CSIR.

The inaugural biannual showcase is intended to match entrepreneurs with technologies developed by R&D institutions that range from barrier technology to nanoparticles for drug delivery. The list of some high potential R&D projects / inventions being showcased includes:

1. Barrier Technology

2. Nanoparticles for Drug Delivery

3. Method for Encapsulating Active Substances

4. Bio-Artificial Liver Support System

5. Specific targeting of TB infected cells

6. Bioplastics from Polyfurfuryl Alcohol

7. Umbiflow

8. Aluminium Rheocasting System

9. Titanium for Investment Casting

10. Smart Factories

11. On Chip 4D Lightfield

12. Quantitative Multiplexed Lateral Flow Device

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