InnovUS e-news 10th edition

Friday, 3 June 2011

SWET set to lead the way in wind energy

Stellenbosch Wind Energy Technologies (SWET) is one of the latest spin-out companies to be formed with the help of InnovUS. SWET will specialise in the development and manufacture of small wind turbines, aimed at farmers, small business owners and residential owners.

SWET was founded in 2011 at the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering at Stellenbosch University by Abri Stegmann, Prof Maarten Kamper and Dr Rong-Jie Wang. InnovUS holds a 40% share in SWET and assisted the company in terms of patent and company registration as well as initial funding. InnovUS is represented in SWET by part-time business developer Philip Marais, who will continue to assist with the recruitment, legal, patenting and strategic aspects of the company.

SWET is located in Stellenbosch, where the company leases premises in the University's maintenance building for the purpose of manufacturing its products. All testing of generators occurs at the University's Electric Machines Laboratory. Company offices are located at the same premises to ensure adequate control of the testing process.

"The vision of SWET is to become the leading small wind turbine manufacturer in South Africa," says Abri Stegmann, CEO of SWET. The company's first project, a permanent magnet wind turbine known as the Stormer™, generates a power output of 6.6kW. A Patent Cooperation Treaty application was filed for the air-cored dual rotor technology used in the Stormer™ in September 2010. A decision regarding which international countries to file in will be taken before March 2012.

In addition, SWET is currently in partnership with Otto Solar, an Upington-based company that buys the Stormer™ generators and installs them on farms throughout South Africa. "However, in future SWET plans to design, manufacture and install the entire wind turbine system directly for its clients," says Abri.

Future projects lined up for SWET include the commercialisation of the Split Permanent Magnet Induction Generator (S-PMIG), a modular magnet-excited induction-synchronous generator combination. SWET will look to develop a 15kW version of the S-PMIG technology. A provisional patent was filed for the S-PMIG technology in August 2010. The long-term goal of SWET is to market and sell both the Stormer™ and S-PMIG products internationally.

Mavericks learn from experts 

Do you want to know more about the challenges of research as such, how to identify the application possibilities of research outputs and converting your research outputs and/or resulting technologies into a viable business? Then having – and making use of – the opportunity to listen to those who have already walked the road, is the way to go. That is why InnovUS presented the second session in their series on Entrepreneurial Mavericks on Wednesday evening 11 May 2011. Staff and students from the Faculties of Science and Agri Science were invited to this special "movie night" with popcorn and cold drinks at the movie theatre in the Langenhoven Students' Centre (Neelsie). 

Prof Jens Kossmann from the Stellenbosch University Department of Genetics and the Institute of Plant Biotechnology; Saberi Marais, business developer at InnovUS; Dr Reinhard Hiller, managing director of the Centre for Proteomic & Genomic Research (CPGR) and Dr Eugene Smit from the Stellenbosch University Department of Chemistry and CEO of the Stellenbosch Nanofibre Company, told future mavericks about the lessons they've learnt and the support available for researchers.

"InnovUS, Stellenbosch University's technology transfer company, supports innovation and the commercialisation of ideas. It assists inventors with grand ideas in making their way to the market, and focuses specifically on patents, business plans, company formation, legal and tax issues and bridging the gap between research and the market by bringing together the experience of leaders in their respective fields," said Saberi.

Prof Kossmann gave the audience a glimpse of his research experience and taking the product resulting from his research to market. A research project in which he participated, namely on the molecular analysis of starch turnover in transgenic potato plants, was eventually sold to Bayer Crop Science Ltd. Read more about Prof Kossmann.

Dr Smit gave attendees the following five tips for converting their research ideas into successful business ventures: (1) Don't disclose your ideas too soon; (2) learn the language of the business market you aim to enter; (3) license your technology; (3) get ready for doing business once your product hits the market, and (5) constantly network.

Dr Hiller gave an overview of the services CPGR can render to Stellenbosch University researchers. Click here for more information.

  • Look out for more information on the next Maverick event on the InnovUS website under News and Events. This event is planned for 3 August 2011 at 17:00 at the Faculty of Health Sciences on the Tygerberg campus. 

What makes a dream team tick?

What do a world traveller, avid runner, bonsai expert, passionate cook, novice golfer, and keen mountain biker have in common? They are the driving force behind InnovUS Technology Transfer (Pty) Ltd, Stellenbosch University's wholly-owned technology transfer company. You have most likely read their professional profiles on their website, but what makes them "tick" when they leave the office?

Anita Nel is not only the energetic CEO of InnovUS, she also jets around the globe. But despite her hectic schedule, she spends as much time as possible with her husband and two young daughters. When at home, you'll never see her in a pair of gardening gloves as she would much rather relax with a novel by a Swedish author or watch a good movie. Quiet moments like these are, however, few and far between. "Some of the most interesting things I have ever experienced were weightlessness during a parabolic flight in an Ilyushin Il-76 jet outside Moscow, witnessing the blast-off of a Soyuz spacecraft at Baikonur in Khazakstan, and visiting countries where McDonalds simply isn't an option," says Anita.

Venessa Williams is the CEO's administrative officer and personal assistant. She joined the InnovUS team in September 2008 and says she loves working in this stimulating environment. She is currently qualifying as a Certified Professional Secretary and enjoys partaking in road races with her husband in her spare time.

Doris Peters, InnovUS intellectual property and financial assistant, has been part of the InnovUS team for a decade. She provides support to the whole team and is also currently completing an entrepreneurship course. She loves spending time with her husband of the past nine years, Sean. "There is nothing quite as enjoyable as spending time with family and friends especially when you can open a bottle of good Cape wine," says Doris. She enjoys spending time with her three dogs, Zet, Noah and Mitzi, at her Bellville home and likes reading fantasy novels and romances. She is a dab hand at bonsai and is currently also developing her photographic skills.

Carol Kat is the InnovUS copyright officer and administrator for the Short Course Division. She lives in Stellenbosch with her husband, Johan, and two daughters, Chanel (20) and Caitlin (18). Not only does her family and work keep her on her toes, she also used to run ultra-marathons like the Comrades and Two Oceans but today she prefers long hikes with a group of good friends. This love for the outdoors extends to walking her two dogs in the Stellenbosch vineyards and pottering in her garden. She likes to relax with a book or watch films about World War II or cook rich stews and pastas for family and friends.

Saberi Marais jokes that he has only recently learned how to hit a golf ball, but this InnovUS business developer loves sport and the outdoors. Until recently he belonged to a Western Cape hiking club and says he cannot wait for the Springboks to win the Webb Ellis trophy at this year's Rugby World Cup tournament. His family is precious to him and he supports his wife as she is nearing the end of her PhD studies and encourages his son to be the best Lego builder on the block. When he has a quiet moment he enjoys reading and highly recommends Zoo City by Lauren Beukes, which is currently on his nightstand.

Philip Marais, part-time business developer at InnovUS, is extremely passionate about two things in life: his faith and his family. "The overriding passion in my life is Jesus. I desire to know Him better and be more like Him," says Philip. He adds that this relationship affects all the areas of his life and helps him to appreciate his family even more. In his spare time, Philip is a keen mountain biker and you can find him on his bike almost every weekend. He also loves the outdoors and enjoys living in Somerset West.

And herein lies the truth and strength of the InnovUS team: their interesting diversity and passion for everything they do, whether at the office, at home or around the globe.

InnovUS expands into brand new office space

The construction of brand new office space for InnovUS is well on track and is scheduled for completion by the middle of June this year, says project manager Hennie Kleynhans. The new facilities, which add an additional 150m2 of floor space to the existing InnovUS offices, include a conference room, open plan office space for 12 people, a patio with a braai area, as well as new restrooms and a shower.

The open plan office space will be used to accommodate new staff members as well as a number of interns, many of whom will start working at InnovUS on 1 July this year.

The new section will be joined to the existing InnovUS offices via a passage running through the current bathroom. In an attempt to preserve a feeling of continuity between the old and new sections, many of the finishes, such as the green walls and pebble inlay features on the floor, have been incorporated in the new section as well.

"It has been great to work with the InnovUS team on this project, because they have so many good ideas and they're really excited about the project. We also worked closely with Chandré van Heerden from the University's Facilities Management Department, and it's been a really good working relationship," says Hennie.

In keeping with the green ethos of InnovUS, the new office space features photovoltaic panels on the roof, which provide electricity for the building, as well as a solar-powered geyser. "The roof also contains isolation panels to keep the heat inside during winter and to keep the building cooler in summer," says Hennie.

Work on the new office space began in November last year, with construction company Newman and Son capably guiding the project through to its final stages. There have, however, been a few challenges along the way. A lemon tree situated on the ground where the offices have been built had to be transplanted to its new location next to the patio at the end of the building. "We obtained the advice of a specialist company regarding how to transplant the tree and it was protected by shields during the construction process and very closely monitored. I'm pleased to report that the tree is doing well," laughs Hennie.

Improvements to the office space also include the installation of a security gate, as well as a number of parking bays for InnovUS staff members. Soon the InnovUS team will be ready to welcome visitors to 15 De Beer Street to their brand new offices. Watch this space!

Calling all SU researchers

Stellenbosch University researchers now have access to free assistance with the design and preparation of their projects at the Centre for Proteomic and Genomic Research (CPGR) at the University of Cape Town. Dr Reinhard Hiller, Director: CPGR, addressed guests at the most recent InnovUS Entrepreneurial Maverick session held on 11 May 2011 and invited all SU researchers to make use of the Centre's services.

Dr Hiller explains that the CPGR's core functions are to process biological samples through a number of genomic and proteomic applications; to analyse the data generated, and train clients in one or more of the technologies or workflows that the CPGR offers. "Training particularly aims at empowering researchers in Genomics, Proteomics and Bioinformatics, in what is required to generate, analyse and interpret complex genomic and proteomic data," says Dr Hiller. "And all of this is done against the backdrop of a portfolio of sophisticated workflows that can be assembled to meet a researcher's individual needs."

According to Dr Hiller, researchers benefit from the solutions provided by the CPGR because they are conveniently localised and available in one place; accessible in terms of support, use and training. The CPGR maintains a very high standard of quality; and is extremely flexible because the CPGR can choose from or combine a number of workflows in order to generate solutions to meet project requirements.  

"These solutions are also affordable," says Dr Hiller. "At the beginning of this financial year we started using a zero-fee model for academic scientist in South Africa in order to stimulate innovation. We don't charge a service fee for the work we do; the only costs the researcher incurs are those of reagents and consumables, which researchers would need to pay anyway if the work was done in their own laboratories." The CPGR also puts a stronger emphasis on larger, integrated and multi-disciplinary projects that are carried out in a collaborative fashion. The aim of this is to advance developments in complex biological and biomedical areas, such as drug development and biomarker discovery.

After submitting a request to the CPGR, researchers are guided through a structured project preparation and study design process. This process is aimed at formulating scientific questions that can best use the available resources such as biological samples, scientific expertise, technologies and workflows in an effective, solution-oriented manner. The CPGR then considers a collaborative approach and follows a series of quality-gated experimental procedures until a set of raw data is generated and an analytical report can be prepared.

"In response to client requirements, raw data can be subjected to further analysis using the CPGR's internal bio-computational pipelines, says Dr Hiller. "Typically, data analysis is carried out in a phased and iterative feedback-loop to ensure a proper flow of information between scientists and bioinformaticians and to generate meaningful results. The entire process is highly interactive and is designed to create maximum value from biological samples and research questions."

 "We also take an entrepreneurial approach to designing and planning projects. We don't look at the aspects of science only. We aim to help establish bio-entrepreneurs, not just scientists." He adds that, particularly with larger projects, the CPGR uses various criteria including the market potential of the expected outcomes of a project; the downstream costs of development, and the possible channels and partners for the introduction of a new service or product into the market when assessing projects.

In fostering entrepreneurship, which is considered a key driver for the development of a bio-economy in South Africa, the CPGR aims at providing an enabling environment where researchers can simultaneously thrive in generating high-quality science and in taking their ideas, concepts and data through to prototyping, market testing and commercialisation.

For more information on what the CPGR offers and how to contact them for assistance, visit their website at www.cpgr.org.za or contact Dr Reinhard Hiller at reinhard.hiller@cpgr.org.za.