InnovUS e-news 18th edition

December 2012

The year that was

As the technology transfer company of Stellenbosch University (SU), InnovUS is focused on contributing to the economy of South Africa through, among others, the commercialisation of researchers’ work. And in 2012 this focus led to the registration of 47 patents, the conclusion of eight licenses and other commercial agreements and the establishment of a spin-out company.

But that is not where it ends. “InnovUS remains committed to follow up on our successes with new initiatives and investments to boost further economic opportunities. Some of these activities include our new licensing offer, our increased support for entrepreneurs and the broadening of our network globally,” says Anita Nel, InnovUS CEO.

“The licences and commercial agreements we have concluded are, among others, Sudem; Namaqua Wines; Genetwister; CIPLA; Danstar; GknowMix (Pty) Ltd; ISIS Space, and the Ethical Leadership Questionnaire.

The spin-out company, GeoSUN Africa (Pty) Ltd, is set to make a major contribution to the solar energy market. Except for the establishment of GeoSUN, six more spin-out companies are in the pipeline.

In support of the creation of an entrepreneurial culture at the SU, various Mavericks events took place during the past year. At these events speakers from the industry and business are invited to share their knowledge on a variety of topics. “We are extremely proud to have hosted Dr Japie van Zyl, former Matie and co-director of Project Formulation and Strategy at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) who was closely involved in the successful landing of the Curiosity space probe on Mars, as one of our speakers in August. This was an extremely successful event with more than 300 attendees,” says Anita.

The Short Courses Division of the SU, managed by InnovUS, has shown steady growth during the past year with a total of 460 short courses registered up to the end of October.

InnovUS also offers a copyright service and assists staff with copyright clearance procedures in respect of course material, thus assuring compliance with the SU blanket license agreement.

“In spite of some challenges during the past year, we have accomplished a great deal. In 2013 we will build on our successes and apply the lessons we have learnt. I look forward to a very successful new year,” says Anita. 

SIC winners flourishing!

The Stellenbosch Idea Competition (SIC) was a winner! This competition which encourages entrepreneurship among SU students and staff and introduces innovative ideas, attracted an impressive 69 entries. A total of 11 winners eventually walked away with prize money of R10 000 each, as well as valuable mentorship time with local business leaders.

In addition to this reward for outstanding entrepreneurship, SIC is opening up worlds for young entrepreneurs. Read here how two of the SIC winners’ businesses are flourishing.

Munch Stellenbosch

At the moment Munch Stellenbosch is doing very well and great expansions are envisaged for this business, says Dawfre Theron, one of the owners of this newly established company. “Our development on all platforms is in beta phases and we intend a huge launch in January 2013.”

Munch is a cellphone application and website (www.letsmunch.co.za) providing information on daily specials at restaurants in Stellenbosch. “We are incredibly privileged to have been able to create a business from a Facebook page which started among friends, and that within a year,” says Dawfre.

“Our database comprises more than 2 000 users and we think that these statistics will grow even further with the apps and new website. In November we made our first appointment in Stellenbosch.

“We are also intending expanding to surrounding towns like Franschhoek and Paarl in December, as well as Bloemfontein and Cape Town. The integration of the apps and the website offers incredible potential for marketers because of the great size potential of the client database.”

Dawfre says they have also had discussions with the Woordfees and other companies in Stellenbosch about possible project partnerships in 2013.

Africhance

The business plan for Africhance Tutors is also showing good progress, according to Jackie van Wyk, the founder of Africhance. “I believed in my idea and it is incredibly satisfying to see that it was all worth it.”

Africhance offers one-on-one, customised Afrikaans lessons to interested locals, immigrants and tourists. Jackie has a three-phase plan of action, namely 1) get tutors, 2) get clients, and 3) set a standard.

Phase 1 was undertaken in November in the form of three information days for interested tutors. She says the interest was overwhelming. “About 50 people attended the first information day – we had to turn away many people because InnovUS’s conference room was too small! From all three information days we should be able to add 45 tutors to our network of tutors for 2013.”

Phase 2 kicks off in January 2013 with a very exciting advertising campaign to market Africhance on Stellenbosch (keep an eye out for Africhance’s website, www.africhancetutors.co.za, as well as its Facebook page!). In the meantime courses and lesson material are developed to link up with phase 3 of the action plan.

Jackie says she hopes to be able to provide at least 50 tutors with work in 2013 simultaneously. “Within the following five years I want to be the Afrikaans language school in the Western Cape where people can learn basic Afrikaans. People from all over the world must be able to see that we are not selfish with our language, but that it is easy, convenient and great to learn and use Afrikaans.”

Her long-term vision is to see Africhance Tutors become a national trademark functioning all across South Africa and setting the pace for language acquisition, not only in Afrikaans.

“I am also hoping that Africhance Community, a division of Africhance Tutors that will be introduced in 2013, will make a meaningful contribution to the community. With this initiative we hope to create opportunities for learning Afrikaans at no cost and to link up with various community projects on a language development level. Among others we are planning a so-called language exchange programme to enable SU students to learn one another’s language at no cost. We are very excited about this because there is a great need for something like this!”

She is grateful for SIC’s incredible contribution to the growth, conceptualisation and development of her business, says Jackie. “The work sessions we had to attend and the opportunities we were afforded to liaise with successful entrepreneurs opened worlds to me, but also made me realise that I had to do my own thing and that there is no one recipe for success.

“This fantastic opportunity also showed me that there are organisations and institutions that really go out of their way for us as young entrepreneurs, and unconditionally so. As a young business woman who still has much to learn, this opportunity inspired me to strive to share that which I have learnt, with others as well.”

The SIC has also boosted the growth of her business, she says. “Because thanks to all the exposure and benefits I am receiving (the prize money being only one), I can now at last introduce the idea I have been working on for two years and set my plans in motion.”

 

Leadership measured effectively

The quest for competitiveness in the business environment combined with a dire need for constructive change in the South African public sector mean that leaders and managers have to build competence in leading people, driving change, and effectively managing work unit performance – all at the same time. As such, leading organisational units to achieve challenging and innovative success constitute a formidable task and unit leaders are seldom proficient in all leadership activities.

In order to measure how effectively leaders meet these challenges, the Leadership Behaviour Inventory (LBI) was developed by Prof Hermann Spangenberg, previously of the Centre for Leadership Studies, Graduate School of Business at Stellenbosch University, and Prof Callie Theron of the Department of Industrial Psychology at Stellenbosch University. A revised version of the LBI, The LBI-2, was developed recently and the commercialisation process thereof facilitated by InnovUS.

According to Prof Spangenberg and Prof Theron, The LBI-2 is a valid and reliable leadership assessment questionnaire specifically for the South African context. “It aims to improve leader effectiveness through the identification of the latent leadership dimensions through which a leader displays behaviour which could benefit from development.”

The key objective of The LBI-2 is to assess the range of capabilities needed by leaders and managers to implement major change while sustaining unit performance, Prof Spangenberg says.

“The LBI-2, therefore, assesses the extent to which a leader demonstrates specific behaviours needed to create, develop and implement a challenging vision and strategy. This is achieved through an easy-to-use 360° questionnaire that asks superiors, peers and followers to rate the frequency with which they observe specific leadership behaviours.”

A total of 20 distinct latent leadership dimensions underlie three phases and are measured by 121 items. The results of the adjudicators are compared with the self-report of the leader and are graphically displayed in a development report.

Each leader receives a detailed report that benchmarks his/her results against a norm base which represents various industries and professions. Besides providing an overview of the leader’s skills, it also presents more detailed information per dimension. The strengths and developmental areas are highlighted and development strategies are provided for the leader and consultant.

According to Prof Spangenberg and Prof Theron, The LBI-2 is a cost-effective instrument which is particularly suitable for assessing the leadership behaviour of middle to senior managers who have been in their position for at least six months and have at least two followers reporting to them.

The LBI have been used in various top South African organisations, including the following industries: banking, mining, retail, financial, manufacturing, telecommunications, petroleum, education, professional and business services and government institutions. 

 

SNC goes from strength to strength

The Stellenbosch Nanofiber Company (SNC) is going from strength to strength with the development of new technologies, more staff and its first product sales! There is even a possibility that their products will be marketed and sold in the USA soon, says Dr Eugene Smit, SNC’s Chief Executive. He is excited about the company’s future and grateful for the support received from InnovUS, which “has opened many doors for me”.

He tells more about what has been happening at SNC since it was established as a spin-out company of InnovUS a year ago.

How is SNC doing currently?

It is going well. Our focus this year was mostly inward. Our main goals were to build a more formal implementation of our high-throughput nanofiber manufacturing technology and to drive the upscaling of the process further. We reached the first goal easily and our upscaling development is also well underway.

We have also discovered a new variation on one of our manufacturing technologies which, within eight months since the establishment of the company, enabled us to apply for another technology patent to add to our portfolio of patents. Over the past five months we have also started moving outward to test the market for one of our products, which has led to our first sales.

Is there a great demand for the nanofiber technologies that you develop?

The fields of application and markets for nanofibers are incredibly wide, and the demand for the technology therefore depends greatly on the development phase of each of those markets. However, recent independent market studies indicate that the nanofiber market can grow up to $4 billion per annum by 2020.

Which fields use this technology particularly?

One of the oldest markets for nanofibers is filtration of for instance water and air. The biomimicking features of nanofibers make them ideal for biotechnology and medical applications such as wound dressings and substrates for cell cultures and tissue engineering.

Nanofibers also have a high surface area per weight, which makes them very useful in new generation batteries, fuel cells and solar cells. It can further be used in light structural composites, which can then be used to make lighter components for cars and aeroplanes for instance.

The level of advancement of the nanofiber applications in these markets differs significantly, so where nanofiber containing air filters have been commercially available for a long time, many other applications are still in the early stages of development and some have only been demonstrated in research laboratories.

Your focus is on the commercialisation as well as the further development of various nanofiber technologies. What does the further development of technologies entail?

We have our own internal research and development team who are working in a few key areas. We are also working on a few projects in collaboration with other institutions to develop new materials and/or products. The development usually requires a mixture of chemistry and polymer science, as well as a good measure of engineering (mechanical, electrical, chemical, etc.) which must be combined to be able to manufacture new materials on a commercial scale.

How many people are involved in SNC?

We started off with a core team of three full-time employees. We also have a good relationship with Skeg Product Development in Montague Gardens, with an excellent team of engineers, industrial designers as well as other skills and facilities.That is why, in March this year, we grabbed the opportunity to join them in moving into a new and larger facility. This new symbiotic arrangement has resulted in us having direct access to the skills and services of a further 15 people. I am also very fortunate to have an excellent board of directors and a few mentors who are providing me with good support on a strategic level.

How do you see SNC’s future?

I am very excited! With our development and manufacturing activities well underway, we started focusing outward over the last few months and concentrating on specific target markets. It has already started paying dividends – we have made our first sales in August and October and are currently engaged in negotiations with a company in the USA, that wants to market and sell some of our products. We will also be expanding our core team with the appointment of an operational manager and intend appointing more researchers and technicians in the new year.

Has InnovUS opened doors for you?

People often have a romanticised idea of the inventor developing a new technology in his garage, which is then apparently naturally followed by a huge commercial success. The reality, however, is that it requires a lot of money, time and support from the right people to really get that idea out of the garage. Even with the most brilliant idea you will achieve very little if you don’t have other people who believe in it and who can assist you.

In the beginning especially, when it is still only the inventor and his/her idea, it can be very difficult to keep track of all the costs and timelines associated with patent applications, writing business plans, marketing the idea and searching for funding. The InnovUS team has always been exceptionally friendly and prepared to help one with these aspects of the process and I can say that InnovUS has opened many doors for me.

 

Rapman sets the pace

It has nothing to do with music, but the pace set by InnovUS’s new Rapman will be fast for sure. The newly acquired Rapman 3.2 3D printer is to provide in researchers’ need for the development of cheap and fast prototypes in-house.

“With the acquisition of the Rapman 3D printer we are expanding the services already rendered to our researchers. InnovUS is now becoming quite diversified as far as this is concerned. I do not know of any other TTOs that provide this type of service in-house,” says Anita Nel, InnovUS’s Chief Executive Officer.

InnovUS, Stellenbosch University’s technology transfer company, supports the University’s researchers and students in the further development or commercialisation of their ideas. The Rapman 3D printer will make the process more streamlined by reducing time and costs.

The printer is designed to build 3D plastic models at a fast pace. It uses a roll of coloured plastic which resembles a long piece of spaghetti. The plastic is fed into a tube where it is melted and positioned in small quantities according to the 3D CAD drawings. In so doing the models are built layer by layer.

It uses Axon software which, although user-friendly, does not lose any advanced functionality at all. Another plus is the design that is as transparent as possible and which allows users to see their creation while it is in the process of being built.

“The printer holds another great advantage for researchers in that it enables them to design and print more than one prototype. They can repeat the process until they are happy with the final product. These early prototypes can then be sent to the Rapid Product Development Laboratory, a division of the Engineering Department, where it can be printed in steel, titanium and a series of other metals," says Anita.

InnovUS hopes its introduction of the Rapman 3.2 3D printer will further encourage innovation and result in a steady stream of new ideas. 

 

Short courses growing in popularity

The Short Courses Division at InnovUS is going from strength to strength and has registered more than 450 short courses this past year, compared to the 186 course registrations recorded when this division was established in January 2007.

Short course presentations are becoming increasingly popular and gaining more support, says Carol Kat, Senior Copyright and Short Courses Officer. “Up until now we have done minimal marketing of short courses but we are currently initiating our marketing processes. We are therefore hoping to show even further growth in the future.”

What exactly is a short course and who is it aimed at?

A short course is a training opportunity which does not form part of the official, approved and subsidised qualification and programme profile of the SU and of which the total study time as expressed in credits, amounts to less than 120, explains Carol.

The SU’s short courses are suitable for both the public and private sector and are aimed at prospective students, registered students, staff, graduates, professionals and the public. Short courses are a SU core activity and all three SU core activities – research, teaching and community interaction – play a role in the presentation of short courses.

According to Carol, short courses are offered in various fields of study, namely agri sciences, arts and  social sciences, education, engineering, executive development, health sciences, language and communication skills, law, leadership and management, natural sciences, theological studies, sport science, and renewable and sustainable development.

She says the Short Courses Division coordinates, standardises and supports short course processes on behalf of the institution. The following services are currently offered:

  • Support to staff through the use of the on-line registration system for short course registrations, as well as the maintenance and upgrading of the system.
  • Support to staff with regard to the financial planning, management and administration of short courses.
  • Initiation, facilitation and evaluation of the policy and procedures for the management, administration and registration and quality assurance of short courses.
  • Short course programme management, marketing and administration.
  • Development and maintenance of a website which advertises the SU’s short courses at no cost.
  • Facilitation of the issuing of certificates of competency and declarations of attendance to those who have attended short courses.

* For more information, send an e-mail to shortcourse@sun.ac.za.