The new Wits Innovation Centre (WIC), opened this week, is expected to provide a space to create, collaborate, and engage in impactful innovation, across disciplines and sectoral boundaries.
Built on the West Campus of the The University of the Witwatersrand, the WIC “is poised to make significant impact by harnessing the creativity and ingenuity of the University’s rich, diverse community of researchers, academics and students, to solve complex, real-world problems confronting humanity and our planet, such as climate change, global health threats, poverty, and inequality, and developing ethical and sustainable technologies,” the university said in a statement.
The WIC is also building off of a rich historical base of Wits researchers being pioneers in various fields, including the development of radar, the first university in the country to own a mainframe computer, to access a quantum computer, to develop a digital innovation precinct, to discover and describe early pre-human fossils, to host a 5G lab, and to effectively transmit data through light.
“The WIC will play a crucial role in fostering an innovation mindset and culture at Wits to assist and help turn new ideas, innovation and methods arising from research-led, researcher-led and student-led innovation into products, processes and services,”
It will also house the new Angela and David Fine Chair in Innovation, established thanks to a donation from Wits alumnus and innovator Dr David Fine. The first Chair in Innovation is Dr Adam Pantanowitz, an iconic biomedical and electrical engineer at Wits. He is also the first Director of the WIC.
An artificial intelligence expert, technologist, and entrepreneur, Pantanowitz is known for initiating and leading the first group in the world to connect a human brain live and mobile to the internet in a project called the Brainternet – a term he coined.
“When we look around, we might see our world filled with challenges,” he says. “We have, however, all of the tools available to us to find solutions. The WIC’s arrival ushers in a new impetus to do so, leveraging the great assets, minds, and tools at our University.
“Wits has always played a leading role in South African society, and can now take a leading role in innovating for societal good. The WIC is a model for how Universities can adapt and change in a fast-changing world to leverage internal assets, partnerships, and most importantly, knowledge creation to help the broader community and impact the world.
“The Chair in Innovation brings forth the opportunity to engage in a creative approach to the academic environment, assembling new structures, processes, and ideas to foster the path to getting our innovations out the door.”
Letlotlo Phohole, a technology and innovation management professional, has been appointed senior programme manager, to help foster collaboration between Wits and industry. A new Telkom Industry Solutions Lab, a commercial research and development (R&D) facility, will see multidisciplinary teams from Wits and Telkom collaborate to research and develop ideas and opportunities that add value to the business and the broader telecommunications industry.
Says Phohole: “Through our Solutions Labs, the Wits Innovation Centre will provide a powerful platform to address industry, community, and societal problems with an entrepreneurial mindset. By involving multiple faculties, disciplines, entrepreneurs, students, and industry partners, we will foster a collaborative environment that promotes cross-pollination of ideas and a diversity of perspectives.”
Professor Lynn Morris, deputy-vice chancellor for research and innovation, recently appointed to the National Advisory Council on Innovation, says it is crucial for universities to meet society’s needs by turning knowledge into impactful solutions.
“We must use our knowledge for the advancement of our community, city, country, continent, and the globe to produce both tangible and intangible outputs for the benefit of society, for good. It is therefore important that we create an environment that is conducive for innovation to take place and there is a strong correlation between innovation and a willingness to take risks.”