SA pro­pels in­no­va­tors

The gov­ern­ment’s Grass­roots In­no­va­tion Pro­gramme is help­ing build a sup­port­ive en­vi­ron­ment for non-tra­di­tional in­no­va­tors

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Turn­ing ideas into new prod­ucts and ser­vices of­ten re­quires sys­tem­atic sup­port from gov­ern­ment or busi­ness, such as pro­grammes for pro­mot­ing links be­tween in­no­va­tors and re­search and de­vel­op­ment in­sti­tu­tions, in­no­va­tion hubs and in­cu­ba­tors, and in­vestors. One of these is the depart­ment of science and tech­nol­ogy’s Grass­roots In­no­va­tion Pro­gramme.

Im­ple­mented by the CSIR (an en­tity of the depart­ment), the pro­gramme seeks to iden­tify, doc­u­ment and of­fer ap­pro­pri­ate as­sis­tance to grass roots in­no­va­tors and in­ven­tors, espe­cially those with no aca­demic back­ground and those who op­er­ate out­side for­mal in­sti­tu­tions.

Ev­i­dence of in­no­va­tion in in­for­mal set­tings be­yond the realms of for­mal in­sti­tu­tions led the depart­ment to in­tro­duce a pi­lot pro­gramme to sup­port grass roots in­no­va­tors.

The pro­gramme nur­tures the cho­sen in­di­vid­u­als, help­ing them to de­velop their in­no­va­tions into busi­nesses and link­ing them with sub­ject mat­ter ex­perts and fa­cil­i­ties where their in­ven­tions can be de­vel­oped to­wards a com­mer­cial model.

They are also pro­vided with en­trepreneur­ship de­vel­op­ment skills that give them the knowl­edge to mar­ket their in­ven­tions com­mer­cially, with a view to boost­ing the econ­omy and job cre­ation.

In the 2016/17 fi­nan­cial year, the depart­ment chan­nelled R2 mil­lion to­wards sup­port­ing in­no­va­tors and tech­nol­ogy en­trepreneurs in the in­for­mal sec­tor and marginalised com­mu­ni­ties.

One of the in­no­va­tors sup­ported by the pro­gramme is Nkosana Madi from KwaThema, Springs, who de­vel­oped an in­ex­pen­sive hy­brid mo­torised bi­cy­cle that speeds up the long com­mute to work faced by many in low-in­come com­mu­ni­ties.

Madi ex­plains that he started mak­ing the bikes about five years ago as a mode of trans­port for him­self, and peo­ple started show­ing an in­ter­est. Even­tu­ally, so many peo­ple were ask­ing about them that he re­alised that he had a busi­ness op­por­tu­nity on his hands.

The Grass­roots In­no­va­tion Pro­gramme gave Madi the op­por­tu­nity to at­tend the Fes­ti­val of In­no­va­tion in In­dia in March 2017.

The fes­ti­val is an ini­tia­tive of the Of­fice of the Pres­i­dent of In­dia. It recog­nises and re­wards grass roots in­no­va­tions and fos­ters a sup­port­ive en­vi­ron­ment for in­no­va­tors.

In­dia, Malaysia, other Asian coun­tries and some Latin Amer­i­can coun­tries have also taken de­lib­er­ate steps to en­sure that their science, tech­nol­ogy and in­no­va­tion sys­tems are in­clu­sive, re­spon­sive and able to sup­port in­no­va­tion in var­i­ous sec­tors of so­ci­ety.

Re­flect­ing on his par­tic­i­pa­tion at the fes­ti­val, Madi said net­work­ing was an im­por­tant step for in­no­va­tors. He built re­la­tion­ships with other in­no­va­tors and is cer­tain that his in­ven­tion is go­ing to the next level in terms of de­vel­op­ment and re­tail­ing.

“In In­dia I learnt that peo­ple in­no­vate out of ne­ces­sity. Some of their in­no­va­tions use in­dige­nous knowl­edge, which is some­thing we should start look­ing at in South Africa as well,” he said.

Madi con­sid­ers the fes­ti­val a valu­able op­por­tu­nity to de­velop prod­ucts re­lat­ing to the au­to­mo­tive in­dus­try, and a plat­form for fu­ture busi­ness. His plan is to have a fully fledged work­shop and ware­house to mass-pro­duce his prod­uct.

Another in­no­va­tor sup­ported by the Grass­roots In­no­va­tion Pro­gramme is Melusi Ntuli, from Pi­eter­mar­itzburg, who de­vel­oped a charge­less elec­tric en­gine.

His in­no­va­tion started with a sketch and re­search car­ried out with sup­port from pro­fes­sors at Dur­ban Univer­sity of Tech­nol­ogy (where Ntuli stud­ied in­dus­trial engi­neer­ing), and the Univer­sity of KwaZulu-Na­tal.

He was ad­vised to make a de­mon­stra­tion model of his power self-di­rect cur­rent mo­tor, which is the main com­po­nent of his charge­less en­gine.

Work­ing with ex­perts helped Ntuli re­alise that when the mo­tor and the en­gine are put to­gether, the en­gine can op­er­ate in he­li­copters and other air­craft.

His big­gest dream is to see the in­ven­tion recog­nised as an op­tion world­wide be­cause it is en­ergy ef­fi­cient – an im­por­tant con­sid­er­a­tion in view of global warm­ing.

Nonhlanhla Mkhize, chief di­rec­tor of in­no­va­tion for in­clu­sive de­vel­op­ment at the depart­ment of science and tech­nol­ogy, says the Grass­roots In­no­va­tion Pro­gramme em­pha­sises the im­por­tance of a re­spon­sive na­tional sys­tem of in­no­va­tion which is ac­ces­si­ble to all in­no­va­tors, re­gard­less of their race, gen­der, age, level of ed­u­ca­tion or ge­o­graphic lo­ca­tion.

Through this pi­lot pro­gramme, the depart­ment and rel­e­vant in­sti­tu­tions are able to sup­port all kinds of in­no­va­tion and en­sure the in­clu­sion of in­no­va­tors who op­er­ate out­side the con­fines of for­mal science, tech­nol­ogy and in­no­va­tion in­sti­tu­tions.

She says the depart­ment is work­ing with var­i­ous or­gan­i­sa­tions to sup­port grass roots in­no­va­tors in var­i­ous fields in­clud­ing the health, cos­met­ics, man­u­fac­tur­ing and re­new­able en­ergy sec­tors.

The pro­gramme made its first call for ap­pli­ca­tions in Septem­ber 2016.

The depart­ment and its part­ners are work­ing to­gether to de­velop a shared data­base which will im­prove re­spon­sive­ness and en­sure that ap­pro­pri­ate sup­port is pro­vided. More­over, it is hoped that the data­base will con­trib­ute to­wards the pro­tec­tion of in­no­va­tors’ in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty.

It is an­tic­i­pated that the Grass­roots In­no­va­tion Pro­gramme will build and strengthen in­no­va­tion skills and ex­per­tise in many of the fields re­quired for the de­vel­op­ment, run­ning and man­age­ment of mod­ern economies.

For more in­for­ma­tion about this pro­gramme, con­tact the depart­ment of science and tech­nol­ogy on 012 843 6300.

PATHFINDER Nkosana Madi, from KwaThema in Springs, de­vel­oped an in­ex­pen­sive hy­brid mo­torised bi­cy­cle that speeds up the long com­mute to work faced by many in low-in­come com­mu­ni­ties

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