TuksNovation – Accelerated Innovation With The University of Pretoria

The University of Pretoria's high-tech business incubator will be launched on the 6th of August by Minister Zulu, Department of Small Business Development at UP - Hatfield Campus, to alleviate the serious challenges related to unemployment South Africa is faced with.

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According to Trading Economics (2017), the youth unemployment rate in SA is extremely high at 55,9%. The University of Pretoria is aware of this challenge and has embarked on launching a high-tech business incubator and accelerator.

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This business technology incubator, known as TuksNovation, will promote job creation by providing support for the commercialisation of technology, networking, mentoring and sustainable spin-off technology companies.

Fuelling the economy

In a knowledge-driven economy, universities play a major role in regional socio-economic development. Innovations arising from a university’s intellectual capital can stimulate economies through new product development. Universities are therefore highly valued in terms of economic potential.

Although the creation of spin-offs is one of the key mechanisms that universities can leverage to promote socio-economic development, few universities in South Africa have done so, and the impact has been very modest.

This low success rate can be attributed to the absence of an entrepreneurial culture, limited access to funding, as well as technology transfer offices at universities that lack critical skills and capacity.

The elements of success

TuksNovation is based on the triple helix model of Etzkowitz and Leydesdorff (1995).

According to the University of Stanford Human Sciences and Technologies Advanced Research Institute (H-STAR) (2011), the triple helix concept comprises three basic elements:

  1. It allows universities to play a more prominent role in innovation, on par with industry and government in a knowledge based society.
  2. There is a movement towards collaborative relationships among the three major institutional spheres, in which innovation policy is increasingly an outcome of interaction, rather than a prescription of government.
  3. In addition to fulfilling their traditional functions, each institutional sphere also performs 34 new roles. Institutions that are currently taking on non-traditional roles are viewed as a major potential source of innovation.

Over the long-term, the business incubator aims to enable the development of industrial clusters with a positive economic impact in Tshwane. It is set up in partnership with the Department of Small Business Development’s Small Enterprise Development Agency (SEDA). 

How it works

TuksNovation aims to build strong networks among academia, government and industry to create new spin-offs that can benefit society.

According to Prof Elma van der Lingen, Chairperson of the Graduate School of Technology Management (GSTM) at the University of Pretoria, the TuksNovation model is based on allocating seed funding to students who are keen to become entrepreneurs and are conducting research on projects that have the potential to develop commercially viable technology.

“Annual TuksNovation competitions will be held on campus and interested students will be able to participate in order to qualify for TuksNovation seed funding to develop their ideas into commercial products,” she says.

The competitions will have strict guidelines and will be evaluated by a committee comprising mainly representatives from industry and technopreneurs. The technology development phase of the projects will be conducted in a virtual incubator in the University’s laboratories and at facilities at local industries.

The students will receive expert technical guidance from academics at the University, as well as technological entrepreneurship training. Various in-kind contributions will also flow from building strong industry networks.

Some benefits from this relationship could include:

  • The use of industry facilities
  • Research on industry-related problems
  • Employment for students and mentorship.

Funding for the business phase of the projects is secured from external funders, such as venture capitalists, investors, and corporations.

Students with commercially viable technology will make pitches and submit business plans to potential investors in order to secure funding. SEDA covers the incubator’s initial operational costs.

TuksNovation will initially support the development of spin-offs in the Faculty of Engineering, Built Environment and Information Technology, but will expand to other faculties involved in science and technology at UP, depending on the availability of funding.

University of Pretoria

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UP is a leading research university in South Africa and one of the largest in the country. The University has seven campuses as well as a number of other sites of operation, such as the Pretoria Academic Hospital. The University of Pretoria offers more than 1 800 academic programmes. The academic programmes are offered in nine faculties, as well as a business school. The faculties comprise a total of 140 departments and 85 centres, institutes and bureaus. UP is at the forefront of tertiary education in the country and collaborates with world-class partners to ensure continued excellence in learning and teaching.