InnovUS e-news 16th edition

20 August 2012

From Maties to Mars

InnovUS is proud to announce that an ex-Matie, Dr Japie van Zyl, a member of the team responsible for the successful landing of Curiosity on Mars, is coming to Stellenbosch!  Dr Van Zyl will also be the speaker at a special Mavericks event, hosted by InnovUS at Stellenbosch University. He will share his experience of the preparations involved in the Curiosity mission, as well as the subsequent successful landing of the nuclear-powered rover. The two-year Curiosity mission aims to look for environmental conditions that might have given rise to life on Mars.

Dr Van Zyl is the associate director of Project Formulation and Strategy at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) which was responsible for the Mars landing. He holds an Honours degree in electronic engineering from the Stellenbosch University and a Master’s degree and PhD from the California Institute of Technology. He will address students and other interested parties in a lunch-time talk on campus on Monday, 3 September 2012. Call (021) 808 3826 for further details.

Meet SU’s brightest business minds

If the current crop of business ideas simmering at Stellenbosch University (SU) is anything to go by, the campus – and South African environment – of the future will be vastly different. The 11 winners of the first Stellenbosch Idea Competition (SIC) initiated by InnovUS and Nucleus, an organisation that promotes entrepreneurship among students, were announced at a gala event on 31 July 2012.

The winning ideas include an Internet browser app that will allow users to comment on anything they find on the web; the use of tablet devices to take notes in classes; a battery monitoring system; and an organisation that will teach rural communities to produce green energy by constructing and maintaining their own generators.

The SIC competition was open to all students and staff at SU, and attracted an impressive total of 69 entries. The 11 winners each walked away with R10 000 in prize money, as well as mentoring time with local business leaders. According to InnovUS CEO Anita Nel, the SIC was such a great success that the decision was taken to turn it into an annual event. “The Stellenbosch Idea Competition is one of the most successful and exciting things we have ever done at InnovUS,” she said. She told the budding entrepreneurs that it is never a bad time to start a business. “It is not easy to be an entrepreneur… but it can be extremely rewarding,” she said at the gala event.

Here is what the winning entrants had to say about the competition and their plans for the future:

Munch Stellenbosch
Munch is a cell phone app and website which provides information on daily specials at restaurants in Stellenbosch. “It feels totally unreal to be one of the winners of the competition – we feel so privileged and excited. We’re currently hard at work to get our business off the ground and have been meeting with developers for the mobile app and the website,” says Dawfre Theron of Munch.

JANE is a note-taking app for tablets which will allow students to use their tablet devices to take notes, and then synchronise these notes with the Stellenbosch University network. “A lot of note-taking apps already exist for mobile devices, but none is meeting the needs of the academic community. JANE is the holistic solution a student needs to organise and gather all the necessary study material on a portable tablet,” says Tsitso Tlali of JANE.

“We know that there's need for such an application; we know we can develop a good product, and we know there is a market that will use the product. Our first step will be to plan the next phase of software development, which will commence immediately after the November examinations,” adds co-founder Tielman Nieuwoudt.

PetroSmart entails a monitored, variable fuel purchasing procedure that offers customers an economical approach to petroleum purchases. “My future plans are to continue the preparations for implementing the PetroSmart product offer and setting up the business,” says Philip Likando of PetroSmart. “The SIC competition was expertly executed. It is a great example of entrepreneurial development in the country and will definitely encourage entrepreneurship on campus,” he adds.



Questiopedia is an online questionnaire bank that collects questionnaires in the social sciences from universities worldwide. “I have personally experienced the need, on many occasions, to find appropriate examples of questionnaires developed by other social scientists worldwide. The idea to bring together questionnaires developed by universities worldwide into a common platform therefore seemed obvious to me,” says Nelius Boshoff, founder of Questiopedia. “However, I realise the enormous potential of the idea, as it can also be extended to the private sector,” he says.


NewCycle is an innovative battery monitoring system that prolongs the lifespan of industrial batteries. “Industrial batteries are used daily for power and back- up to equipment. Our battery monitoring system helps to monitor and equalise batteries, therefore extending the battery lifetime and minimising maintenance,” says Nick Prinsloo of NewCycle.

“The SIC is something everyone should part take in, no matter how insignificant other people might find your idea. The workshops help you to identify whether there is an opportunity for your idea and conclude whether it will be profitable to pursue it,” adds NewCycle co-founder Danielle Cloete.


Ugesi Gold
Ugesi Gold is a social business that will teach rural communities to produce green energy by constructing and maintaining their own generators. “Ugesi is the Zulu word for electric light, so Ugesi Gold roughly translates to ‘golden light’. Ugesi will sell socially uplifting, green electricity to South Africa and ultimately the world,” says Ugesi Gold founder James van der Walt. “SIC has opened so many doors for me and put me in contact with so many amazing business minds. Every university should be hosting competitions like this,” he says.


Campus TAB
Campus TAB will provide students and lecturers with quality tablet technology, including a library application which will provide all study material in a digital format, thereby leading to a greener campus culture. “I received constructive advice from the SIC final adjudicating panel and other sources, which has made me even more excited and determined to go through with my business plan,” says Campus TAB founder Jonathan Nel. “The Stellenbosch Idea Competition was well presented, despite being its inaugural year. I am very excited to see what they have  in store for next year,” he adds.

Comment_it is a downloadable Internet browser app which will allow users to leave comments or questions on any web page they encounter. “Winning this competition really means a lot to me because it confirms that other people also see the potential in my idea,” says Sebastian-James Bode of Comment_it. “I come from an engineering background, so I had absolutely no business knowledge at all before I entered this competition. My eyes have really been opened to the business world, and I now realise that the idea was the easy part – the real hard work starts now.”

Eat Easy
Eat Easy is an online shopping website that will provide subscribers with ingredients and instructions to cook new and innovative meals on a weekly basis. “Eat Easy will allow our customers to enjoy dinner time at a new level. My plans for the future are to sell equity to raise capital, with the goal of launching the business in January 2013,” says Eat Easy founder Wade van Gogh.

Tutorbook is a web-based business that matches students at schools or universities with relevant tutors in their area. “Tutorbook offers a service that is in demand within the university environment. By allowing students an alternate means of finding a tutor, and by allowing tutors an alternate means of advertising, we intend to connect both parties in a mutually beneficial way,” says Vincent Riddell of Tutorbook. “The SIC initiative is of great importance to the growth of entrepreneurship, particularly to the Stellenbosch area,” he adds..

Africhance offers face-to-face customised Afrikaans lessons to local and foreign students, as well as tourists. “The SIC has provided me with the wonderful opportunity to officially launch my business. I plan on expanding our tutor network and to launch a marketing campaign to increase awareness of the service we provide. What impresses me the most about SIC is that it encourages entrepreneurship in all fields of study and not only science and technology,” says Africhance founder Jackie van Wyk.

Mentorship boost for SIC winners

In addition to prize money of R10 000, the 11 winners of the recent Stellenbosch Idea Competition (SIC) each received valuable mentorship time with local business leaders. Mentorship is a crucial element to the ongoing viability and successful implementation of these promising ideas.

The mentors who will be providing guidance to the winning entrants include internal InnovUS mentors, and mentors organised by Business Partners, a local organisation that supports entrepreneurship by providing financing, specialist sectoral advice and other services to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Each of the 11 winners will receive mentorship hours valued at R2 000 from Business Partners.

All entrants to the SIC were required to submit a project plan and budget for their idea as part of the entry process. “The idea is that the mentors will help our winners to refine both their project plan and budget and give them support in the initial stages of their business launch. The winners will also be accountable to their mentors in terms of how they utilise the prize money that they have won,” explains Philip Marais, part-time business developer at InnovUS.

The relationship between each winner and their allocated mentors will be very carefully monitored. “The challenge from our side is to match the winners and mentors correctly” says Saberi Marais, business developer at InnovUS. “The role of the mentor is not only to provide business advice, but also to introduce the winners to useful networks and provide expert advice in the industry in which the SIC businesses will operate.”

In addition to the cash prize and mentorship, Von Seidels Patent Attorneys has sponsored two free patent consultations and a free trademark for each winner. The InnovUS team will also remain intimately involved with all the SIC winners and will provide advice or assistance where needed. “We’re looking forward to seeing these ideas develop into South African success stories and we’ll provide any support we can to help them get there,” concludes Philip.

  • Would you like to offer your services as a mentor to budding entrepreneurs? If so, please contact InnovUS CEO Anita Nel at

Traditional cow herder’s game goes digital

Thanks to the efforts of a third year Applied Mathematics student at Stellenbosch University, a traditional African game will soon be available to players all over the world on mobile devices, as well as social network platforms. Matie student Tsitso Tlali grew up playing the traditional version of Morabaraba in the hills of Lesotho, and now InnovUS is helping him commercialise the digital version, known as mrbrb, hopefully making it available to 100 000 users within the first phase of its launch.

Morabaraba is a strategic board game which was historically played by cow herders in the rural areas of Southern Africa. Each player starts with 12 playing pieces (or ‘cows’), which they have to arrange on the board in order to form groups of three (known as ‘mills’). “Once you have a mill, you can take one of your opponent’s cows,” explains Tsitso. “A player wins the game when his opponent has only two cows left (and is therefore unable to form a mill), or when all possible adjacent nodes are blocked, a situation similar to checkmate in chess.”

Tsitso was first inspired to develop a digital version of Morabaraba as a way to practise computer architecture for his second year studies in computer science. “After I had completed all the computer architecture assignments for the year, I wanted something else to practise on so I decided to write a digital version of Morabaraba,” he says.

Tsitso had approached his lecturer, Professor Brink van der Merwe, for some advice and soon he completed the basic programming of the game. Prof van der Merwe subsequently referred Tsitso to InnovUS for help with commercialising the game. “We immediately saw the potential in Tsitso’s idea and have since been supporting him by providing office space, legal and business mentoring as well as project funding,” says InnovUS business developer Saberi Marais.

While Tsitso had initially envisioned mrbrb as an Open Source game, after consulting with mentors at InnovUS, the decision was taken to shift the game to a mobile platform, piloted on Android software. After a subsequent meeting with MXit Innovation Manager Gavin Marshall, the idea of a multiplatform game, available on Android and iOS software, as well as platforms such as MXit and Facebook, was born. “The amazing thing about the multiplatform development is that any two players can play against each other, no matter which platforms they use to access the game,” says Tsitso.

Another exciting element that has since been incorporated into mrbrb is a spectator comment and chat platform which allows users to log in and watch the games currently being played. “This allows new players to learn the rules of the game, and allows seasoned players to coach or advise those who are currently playing,” says Tsitso. Spectator chat is a significant part of the game’s heritage as onlookers would add to the banter between two players, thereby heightening the commentary and intensity of the game.

With the help of InnovUS, mrbrb has also been entered into the ITU Telecom World Competition 2012. “Entry into this competition required the development of a business concept, marketing strategy, financial model and SWOT analysis, among other things,” says Saberi. A website for the game, has also been developed and is scheduled to go live shortly. The business model of the game relies on revenue from in-game advertising, via Google ads and MXit, as well as the purchase of credits by users to play games after a few free games on a trial basis.

While the commercial benefits are evident, Tsitso is adamant that his biggest dream is for the game to recapture the fascination of young people in South Africa, and offer the educational value that it has had in the past. “Morabaraba used to be such a good introduction to the barter system and negotiating deals, as well as strategy and logical thinking. I want to bring back that value of the game,” he says.

Maties Incubator an essential launch pad for start-up companies

The establishment of incubators to allow young entrepreneurial minds to grow is at the order of the day for the leading international and local universities. And Stellenbosch University is joining this group in the planning of the Maties Incubator, an essential launch pad for start-up companies which will be situated on the University campus. SU is a research-driven university and the high and relevant research output signals a positive outlook on the growth of entrepreneurship at Stellenbosch.

“Prof Leopoldt van Huyssteen, Executive Director: Operations and Finance, and I visited Australia and China in June to investigate the operations and functioning of incubators at the Australian Technology Park (ATP)  in Sydney and at the YanShan University Science Park (YSUSP) outside Beijing,” says Anita Nel, CEO: InnovUS.

“We were impressed by the scale of these incubators. The model that we want to follow at SU is in line with that of both these incubators, i.e. we will not only offer so-called real estate where we simply offer the physical space and shared facilities for the start-ups, but we will supply them with solid mentoring and introduce them to our network. I believe this is the distinction between successful and unsuccessful incubators.”

The ATP is situated on 14 hectares hosting leading Australian and global IT, communication and science companies. The incubator is situated in one of the buildings in the ATP, involving five universities in this facility.  The Park offers a unique and inspiring environment for collaboration, information exchange and knowledge-sharing.

The YSUSP covers an area of 67 hectares with a total incubator area of nearly 78 000 square meters. This Park is home to 118 hi-tech enterprises from one university alone. The Park relies on the talents, disciplines and technical advantages of YanShan University (YSU) to incubate the medium and small-sized enterprises and to accelerate YSU’s technology transfer and the transformation and commercialisation of the Park’s achievements.

“We were very well received at both these institutions and were privileged to experience the commitment from the respective universities toward the science parks and specifically the incubators.

“From our visit to both these facilities we came to the conclusion that an increasing number of universities globally do not consider an incubator as a luxury any more, but as a natural and important aspect of a university’s operations,” says Anita.

According to Prof Van Huyssteen, the fact that many local universities are now all establishing incubators shows that local universities are also responding actively to this realisation and it signals a positive outlook on the growth of entrepreneurship in South Africa.

“Universities have an important responsibility in the establishment of incubators and to ensure entrepreneurs receive the right support as part of the innovation chain,” says Prof Van Huyssteen.

A new face on the Short Courses and Copyright team

There’s a brand new face at the InnovUS offices in De Beer Street. Elmien Lovell joined the InnovUS team in July this year as the new Copyright and Short Courses Administrator.  Elmien is, however, no newcomer to Stellenbosch University, having worked on campus for the past eight years. She joined the Department of Genetics in 2004 as an administrative officer, before moving to the Engineering faculty, also as an administrative officer, in January 2008. “I applied for this position at InnovUS earlier this year because I wanted to grow in my career and thought this was the ideal opportunity to do so,” she says.

Elmien’s responsibilities as Copyright and Short Courses Administrator include managing all the administration and queries on the short course systems, managing copyright applications, as well as the marketing of short courses on the dedicated web pages. Once the short course systems have been sufficiently upgraded, Elmien’s responsibilities will be expanded to include logistical management and administration services related to the organisation of the short courses. “I’m a bit apprehensive about the organisational function, but I see it as an opportunity to expand my skills and really grow in this role,” she says.

Fortunately Elmien has plenty of experience with short courses, having helped organise courses at both the Department of Genetics and the Engineering faculty.”What’s exciting about my new role is that I will be working with the lecturers and the presenters of the courses, as opposed to just dealing with those who attend the courses,” she adds.

After completing her schooling, Elmien enrolled for a three-year diploma in office administration at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology before beginning her career at Rupert International, where she eventually held the role of departmental secretary in the financial department. “Although I really enjoyed my work there, moving to Stellenbosch University was a breath of fresh air after working in such a corporate environment,” she smiles.

Her first few weeks at InnovUS may have been fairly quiet (she started during the University’s June holidays), but she’s grateful for the chance to settle in properly before the work begins in earnest. “Everyone has warned me that things will get hectic busy very quickly, but that’s not a problem. I like being busy and I thrive on helping others,” she says.

When she’s not managing short course or copyright queries, Elmien enjoys reading and walking. “Walking keeps me fit, but it also helps to clear my head. I have two children, aged five and 12, who keep me very busy, so walking is my time to unwind,” she says. She recently took part in the Totalsports Women’s Day 10 km Walk on 9 August this year. “I like taking part in races and 10km is the perfect distance to walk. I once walked 21km without training, but I regretted it so much the next day. I don’t think I’ll do that again,” she laughs.

We’d like to extend a warm welcome to Elmien. If you require assistance with short course and copyright queries, don’t hesitate to contact her on (021) 808 9068 or e-mail

The Advantages of Registering a Trade Mark in South Africa

Although unregistered marks do acquire common law rights through use, there are distinct advantages to having a registered trade mark.

  1. Exclusivity
    Registering a trade mark gives the registered owner the exclusive right to use the mark in relation to specific goods and services and enables the owner to prevent others from adopting similar marks in relation to similar goods or service.

    Merely having your trade mark recorded on the Trade Marks Register often deters others from adopting a similar mark as it will appear on registrability searches conducted by third parties prior to filing and be cited by the Trade Marks Office against subsequent applications for similar marks.

    In cases where a registered trade mark is also considered to be well-known, it may even prevent others from adopting similar marks in relation to unrelated goods and services that may dilute the distinctive charateristics of the mark.
  2. Cost and lifespan
    Registering a trade mark is relatively cheap in comparison to other forms of intellectual property.

    Furthermore, a registration remains valid indefinitely and increases in value as its use and reputation increase, provided the registration is renewed every ten years at a minimal fee.
  3. Property
    Registering a trade mark is similar to obtaining a certificate of title in relation to land. A registered trade mark is an asset which may be valued, licensed or offered as security.

    It is important to note that a registered trade mark can also be sold without the goodwill attached to it, which is not possible with unregistered marks. Upon selling a business or part thereof, it can be more convenient to allocate the value generated in the brand to a registered trade mark portfolio, which may influence the selling price.
  4. Franchising and licensing
    It is easier to license and govern the use of a registered trade mark to manufacturers, distributors or franchisees and to claim royalties in return.

    The owner may also record “Registered Users” for the trade mark, which ensures that the registered proprietor retains ownership of the goodwill attached to the mark. If necessary, it also permits these users to enforce the mark on the owner’s behalf.
  5. Enforcement
    Enforcing a registered trade mark is much less burdensome and costly than enforcing an unregistered mark. A registered trade mark is afforded stronger remedies and is a prerequisite to claiming trade mark infringement. Furthermore, a registered trade mark forms a solid basis for company and domain name objections.

Llwellyn du Toit

Llwellyn du Toit, intern at InnovUS who was seconded by Von Seidels Intellectual Property Attorneys, was admitted in July as attorney. He is also a qualified chemist. Our heartiest congratulations!