InnovUS e-news 12th edition

Friday, 21 October 2011

InnovUS to launch incubator for dynamic start-up companies

InnovUS is very excited about the anticipated future launch of a Maties Incubator, a launch pad for start-up companies situated on the Stellenbosch University campus. If everything goes according to plan, as of October 2012, spin-out companies from the Stellenbosch University (SU) as well as outside start-ups will benefit from a wide range of sophisticated facilities provided by the incubator. These benefits will include shared infrastructure and network services, affordable rental, an open air coffee bar for networking, academic guidance from university staff and mentoring from leading companies and individuals in the venture capital (VC) environment.

“We want to offer researchers and students at Stellenbosch University an alternative career as an entrepreneur,” says Anita Nel, CEO of InnovUS. “The incubator will offer them the opportunity to start their own businesses with a ‘soft landing’ and potentially create jobs, wealth and knowledge in the process. I believe this is the beginning of a wave of entrepreneurial activity on campus. I’d also like to thank the senior management of Stellenbosch University for their support and vote of confidence in this regard to bring us to the point where such a possibility may soon become a reality.”

InnovUS hopes to incubate up to 67 companies in the Maties Incubator over the next eight years. This will translate into the creation of over 900 direct job opportunities and over 700 indirect job opportunities. According to Anita, it is imperative for universities to start companies, rather than relying solely on straight licence agreements. “The social and economic impact of university start-up activity can be very significant and should not be underestimated,” she says. “In the past year, seven companies in Stellenbosch University’s group of spin-out companies had a combined turnover of R106m and currently employ 192 people.”

It is the mission of InnovUS to further entrepreneurship on the SU campus by means of a variety of initiatives. The recently established Mavericks entrepreneurial evenings, the Maties Incubator and the potential establishment of a Matie Technology Fund to invest in spin-out companies from Stellenbosch University are all examples of this drive.

In addition, InnovUS will launch the Stellenbosch Idea Competition next year during which students will be invited to pitch their business ideas to a panel of judges from the corporate, VC and academic environments. Several winners will be awarded a significant amount each to pursue their business ideas as well as a specified amount of mentoring hours. Watch future editions of this newsletter for further updates on the competition.

  • InnovUS has acquired suitable premises for an incubator in the form of a building with a total floor area of 1 100m2, but requires urgent funding and assistance with infrastructure in order to make it suitable for use as an incubator. Funding will secure the sponsoring company with naming rights to the incubator, association with a project which pioneers entrepreneurship and job creation, as well as several other opportunities. Donations in kind or mentoring from the corporate sector are also welcomed. Interested parties can contact Anita Nel at ajnel@sun.ac.za or 021 808 3079.
     

InnovUS interns thrive in innovative environment

Four student interns have joined the InnovUS team and are already reaping the rewards of working in a dynamic and innovative environment. The “100-hour internship” project is unique to InnovUS and provides students with practical experience in the field of innovation, projects and commercialisation. Business or technology-orientated students with an interest in innovation are encouraged to apply for the internship. The appointment of business interns is conducted in collaboration with Awie Vlok from the University’s Department of Business Management.

The first group of four student interns, Duaan Dekker, JD Labuschagne, Grethe Mattheus and Pieter Lotz, started their internship at the beginning of October and have already benefited from a business course presented by the author of Engineering Entrepreneurship, Prof. Wynand Coetzer. “The goal of the course was to teach them to perform a business analysis on a business idea. This involves a number of steps, including the identification of business models, followed by market segmentation and a portfolio analysis,” explains Prof. Coetzer. The interns were also included in various brainstorming sessions, the recent Mavericks evening, and will work on ad hoc InnovUS projects.

“The interns working at InnovUS have the opportunity to gain first-hand, practical experience of how business negotiations are conducted, how contracts are concluded and how technology is applied in business,” says InnovUS CEO Anita Nel. “The internships also benefit InnovUS in that they increase our capacity to provide truly innovative technology transfer solutions and also help us to better understand the needs of the students on our campus.” In addition to the four new interns, InnovUS also benefits from the valuable assistance of Dr Sameshnee Pelly, a full-time intern who will be with InnovUS until the end of February 2012, as part of an agreement with Von Seidels Attorneys.

We asked a few of the interns to share their thoughts on their experience of the 100-hour internship so far:

Duaan Dekker, who holds a BComm Honours degree in Strategy and Innovation, says he applied for the internship due to his strong interest in innovation. “Innovation is an emerging field which is gaining prominence in business and academic spheres and I find it incredibly interesting. InnovUS has a strong focus on bringing new ideas to the market and I want to gain as much exposure to this exciting process as possible.” He adds that he has already learnt a lot about the fickle nature of the innovation process and the “veritable minefield that innovators must tread to turn their ideas into innovations”. Duaan hopes to conclude his internship with solid knowledge of the practical side of innovation and the skills required to create innovations in future.

JD Labuschagne is currently completing his BComm degree in Investment Management.  He first encountered InnovUS when he attended a Mavericks evening and was impressed by the entrepreneurial spirit that prevailed at the evening. “I applied for this internship in the hope that I would be surrounded by brilliant ideas and people who would help to make these ideas a reality,” he says. JD views his internship as an opportunity to explore, to gain knowledge and to implement what he has learnt. “When I think of this internship, I think of the metaphor of a seed being planted in soil and being allowed to grow. I am the seed, only in this case I am planted in fertiliser and being fed with water that is enriched with nutrients. This means that I can grow much faster – not of my own doing, but rather due to the grace and good fortune of the environment in which I find myself.”

Grethe Mattheus holds a BComm Honours degree in Strategy and Innovation. She applied for an internship at InnovUS in order to gain practical experience in the broad field of innovation management. Her enthusiasm for what she has already learnt is evident. “I am already gaining so much. The most valuable experience is working with different people and getting exposure to a wide variety of projects within the field of innovation,” she says. The internship has granted her insight into the market research and feasibility studies which are required when a business is started, which has given her a new perspective on how business ideas should be analysed.

“I hope to analyse a real business idea with each of the interns,” adds Prof. Coetzer. “Although the techniques aren’t difficult, it’s a bit like learning to ride a bicycle. It looks easy, but you have to get on the bike and ride, and fall off a few times, before you really master it.”

A new group of interns will be enrolled once the current 100-hour project is concluded. If you would like to be considered for an internship with InnovUS, send your CV and a letter of application to Awie Vlok at avlok@sun.ac.za or Anita Nel at ajnel@sun.ac.za. Please note that you must hold at least a BComm degree and should be working towards a post-graduate qualification.


Meet the efficient force behind SU’s copyright and short courses portfolios

Multitasking comes naturally to Senior Copyright and Short Courses Officer Carol Kat. In fact, it’s one of the things she enjoys most about her job. “I really thrive on the variety and unpredictability of what I do – there’s never a dull moment with my job,” she says.

Carol first joined Stellenbosch University as a Copyright Officer in 2003 and started working for InnovUS – although in a different office at the time – in June 2004. In 2008 she was asked to handle the enquiries relating to the University’s short courses. “However, by the middle of 2009 the workload on short courses had trebled and I started doing strategic planning for the Short Courses Division as well as managing the infrastructure and administrative functions associated with short courses,” she says.

Carol was recently promoted to the position of Senior Copyright and Short Courses Officer, a job that involves dividing her time between managing the University’s copyright issues on the one hand and handling the short courses portfolio on the other. “The peak season for copyright activity is from November to February and then again from June to August. Fortunately those times coincide with the times when most of the short courses are already registered and up and running. Then, when the copyright activity quietens down, I focus on short courses again,” she explains.

While her current position seems to fit her like a glove, it’s rather far removed from her qualification as a radiographer. “I studied radiography at the University of the Orange Free State and then practiced as a radiographer for a number of years before moving to the Western Cape 16 years ago,” she says. When her two daughters were young she started doing data systems management work from home for an academic publishing company, focusing specifically on data for prescribed books for tertiary institutions. From there it was a logical move to start working on copyright within a university environment.

As Senior Copyright and Short Courses Officer, Carol’s responsibilities include the strategic management of the University’s short courses, management of all copyright aspects at the University, the implementation of the University’s blanket licence agreement with regards to copyright in course material, the implementation of the short courses policy, facilitation of all processes surrounding short courses (for example, registration) and the distribution of information regarding copyright and short courses to the staff of the University.

The main challenge she faces in both the copyright and short courses space is finding a solution that keeps all the parties involved happy and that also falls within the parameters of the University’s policies. “There’s often a lot of negotiation, back and forth. My job requires a fair amount of diplomacy at times,” she laughs.

When she’s not at work Carol is a keen cook who reads recipe books like novels and also enjoys spending time with her husband, Johan, and her two daughters, as well as hiking and walking in the vineyards with her two spaniels.
 

Innovation abounds at Mavericks evening

The InnovUS Entrepreneurs Evening for Innovation Mavericks held on Wednesday, 5 October 2011, was a huge success. Over 50 people attended the event at the Neelsie cinema which included presentations by speakers from Google and Obsidian Systems, a leading force in the Open Source Software environment.

The evening was geared towards entrepreneurs who were interested in turning their software-related ideas or research projects into a product or service. Gert-Jan van Rooyen from the MIH Media Lab at Stellenbosch University presented results that dispelled the myth that you need to be a university drop-out to be a successful entrepreneur, while part-time business developer at InnovUS Philip Marais spoke about the commercialisation possibilities of intellectual property. After a short break, Google Industry Manager for South Africa, Johanna Koller talked about the Google Umbono incubation progamme and the development of a sustainable internet ecosystem in Africa, while Obsidian and Telementa founder Anton de Wet shared his experiences of the challenges and rewards of starting his own software businesses as well as his insights into the current financial crisis.

“I was really impressed by the quality of the questions that the audience members asked our speakers. It’s clear that we have many students on campus who are interested in learning more about entrepreneurship,” said Philip Marais, part-time business developer at InnovUS. “We will definitely hold more of these events in future. In fact, I was emailed by a student the day after the event complimenting us on a very well organised evening with excellent speakers.”

Those who attended the event were treated to Coke and popcorn before taking their seats in the cinema, which added to the informal, yet dynamic nature of the gathering. The evening was concluded with the opportunity to network with the speakers over cheese and wine after the presentations.
 

US Science Faculty among the best in the world

The Science Faculty at Stellenbosch University has been recognised by the esteemed QS World University rankings list. The recently released QS World University Faculty List for Natural Sciences lists Stellenbosch University at position 331 in the world. The Science Faculty at the University of Cape Town (UCT) is the only other South African Science Faculty to appear in the top 400.

Published annually since 2004, the QS World University Rankings list is the most trusted university ranking list in the world. The QS list considers applications from 2 000 universities from around the world before selecting and rating the top 400 universities. In rating universities, the QS list considers academic reputation, employer reputation, citations per faculty, faculty student ratio, the proportion of international students and the proportion of international faculty members.

“I’d like to thank all my colleagues at Stellenbosch University for their ongoing support which made a huge contribution to attaining this achievement,” says Professor Eugene Cloete, Dean of the Faculty of Science at Stellenbosch University.
 

Welcome to our new home

A state of the art boardroom, ultra modern work stations and a neatly manicured garden are just a few of the features that InnovUS staff members are enjoying after the extension to their existing office space was finally completed at the end of August this year. “We’re very happy with the final result – it feels like a home away from home,” says Intellectual Property and Financial Assistant Doris Peters, who managed the building project along with Senior Copyright and Short Courses Officer Carol Kat.

“We wanted our offices to have a wow factor – for people to walk in and immediately love the feeling of our space. I think we’ve achieved that by including special details like a fireplace in our meeting room, a beautiful chandelier which hangs above our staircase and by using locally designed fabrics for the upholstery of our furniture,” says Doris.

At the same time, there is a strong focus on technology and innovation within the InnovUS offices. There is wireless internet access throughout the entire office space and the airy boardroom features two data points which are connected to a high tech projector. In addition, work stations in the open plan office area, which will be used by interns working at InnovUS, include special touches such as magnetic notice boards, electrical and data points which ensure that no electrical cords clutter the floor, as well as the latest desktop computers with extra large screens.

The building project, which added an additional 150m2 of office space to the existing offices, also included the construction of much needed parking bays for InnovUS staff and visitors, a newly landscaped garden, new bathroom facilities, as well as the inclusion of various energy saving devices such as photovoltaic panels on the roof and a solar-powered geyser.

“The building process was a long eight to ten months of drilling and dust, but we all agree that the end result was worth it,” says Doris. “It was really a team effort – all our staff members gave input as to how we envisaged our new space and I think we can be very proud of the results. In fact, we’ve already been flooded with compliments and requests from people who want to come and work in our offices,” she laughs.
 

Sol Bezuidenhout joins InnovUS team

The InnovUS team continues to grow and now benefits from the expertise of Sol Bezuidenhout, Investment Manager at Hasso Plattner Ventures Africa, and newly appointed Part-time Business Developer at InnovUS. While Sol has been involved with InnovUS in an advisory capacity for a number of years, his new appointment sees him assume a permanent part-time position with the company.

Sol, who will work at the InnovUS offices in Stellenbosch on Fridays, will focus on the establishment of an incubator and technology fund for InnovUS. University incubators have boomed in recent years; they are also referred to as “business accelerators” as they aim to provide various forms of support to start-up companies. “My role will entail gaining a better financial understanding of the set-up of an incubator, assessing what is required and raising the appropriate funds,” says Sol.

Sol is excited about the challenges that lie ahead at InnovUS. “InnovUS is a leading technology transfer company and I’m excited about being involved at the very early stage of investment opportunities. I believe it will offer me a unique opportunity to use my skills in a very different manner.”

Fitting in at InnovUS is sure to be a breeze for Sol, who is an ex Matie with a Masters Degree in Chemical Engineering and a Diploma in Executive Management from the Stellenbosch University Graduate Business School. When he’s not working at one of his two jobs Sol enjoys reading, horse riding, hiking and spending time with his daughter.