InnovUS e-news 20th edition

May 2013

SU Business Launchpad to boost entrepreneurship in South Africa

Student entrepreneurs and aspiring business ventures will soon have a home in the heart in Stellenbosch.

A whole floor of Stellenbosch University’s Admin Building, in the centre of the campus, is currently being fitted out to welcome a next generation of innovators, freethinkers and entrepreneurs. The Business Launchpad is an initiative of InnovUS, the University’s technology transfer company.

The Business Launchpad, as it is currently known, offers tenants excellent infrastructure and network services, as well as guidance from academic staff and leaders in the business world to help them launch their business ideas. Aptly described as a business accelerator, the Launchpad aims to boost entrepreneurship on campus by providing networking opportunities, mentoring and affordable rental rates in an entrepreneur-friendly environment.

The accelerator will include Stellenbosch University (SU) spin-out companies (formed in conjunction with the University) as well as student-owned enterprises, which function independently of the University, but have access to the services in the business accelerator. In addition, the business accelerator will be open to external start-up companies who would like to benefit from the entrepreneurial services on offer, as well as internal or external service providers who are able to provide mentoring, support or guidance to the accelerator tenants.

The first tenants in the Business Launchpad include two start-ups from SU – Stellenbosch Wind Energy Technologies (SWET) and Praelexis, a software company based on machine learning technology, while established spin-out company SUN MeDIA STELLENBOSCH, will function as a service provider within the accelerator.

“We are also particularly excited to welcome Orientis VC, a venture capital company that will provide mentoring to the other tenants in the accelerator,” says Anita Nel, CEO of InnovUS. “Through pure word of mouth, we have already received tremendous interest from both student ventures, as well as external entrepreneurs to become accelerator tenants. This shows that there is a significant need for entrepreneurial support in the region.”

The business accelerator will also offer a “hot desk” area for students with promising business ideas. “For a limited period, we’re offering this hot desk space free of charge – students will only be expected to cover their own expenses, such as telephone calls and internet usage. In the hot desk area students will benefit from the expertise of those providing mentorship in the accelerator, as well as the opportunity to network with other like-minded individuals,” says Anita.

The goal is for the accelerator to become the hub of entrepreneurial and innovational activities at Stellenbosch University. “I would like to invite local businesspeople or academics to become involved with our entrepreneurs in a mentorship capacity. By fostering entrepreneurship on campus we are empowering our students to start their own businesses and create jobs, wealth and knowledge in the process. We really need the support of a strong network of mentors who want to contribute to the growth of entrepreneurship on our campus,” says Anita.

The business accelerator will also become the home of the InnovUS 50H (50 hours) internship programme. This programme is aimed at postgraduate students who would like to gain real life experience of a start-up company by assisting with financial modelling, market research and other activities. “This kind of experience is invaluable on your CV when you enter the job market,” adds Anita.

At present, the Business Launchpad is funded by the University, but the intention is to develop this interim accelerator into a fully fledged business accelerator, for which external funding is still required. The business accelerator still requires a name of its own, and funding will grant the sponsoring company partial naming rights and significant exposure.

“Universities have a responsibility to commercialise the products and services flowing out of their research so that they are available to industry and the public. As a research-based university, Stellenbosch University has an important responsibility in this regard to ensure that entrepreneurs receive the support they need to function as part of the innovation chain,” says Professor Leopoldt van Huyssteen, Executive Director: Operations and Finance at SU. “I believe the Business Launchpad is the beginning of a wave of entrepreneurial activity on campus. Entrepreneurship is vital to economic growth and job creation in South Africa, and Stellenbosch University is committed to contributing in this regard.”

  • Liaise with Anita Nel on ajnel@sun.ac.za or 021 808-3826 to become a tenant in the Business Launchpad or to offer mentorship and support to aspiring entrepreneurs.

Success starts at Stellenbosch

InnnovUS plays a substantial role in the development of an entrepreneurial culture at Stellenbosch University through various activities, such as the Mavericks events, the Stellenbosch Idea Competition (SIC) and the support of potential entrepreneurs’ novel ideas. This is the first in a series of articles focusing on ex-Matie entrepreneurs who have broken the mould and made their mark in the business world. We want our student entrepreneurs to be inspired by these young businessmen who were writing exams in the Engineering Faculty not very long ago! Read more about Schalk Nolte, CEO of Entersekt.

Not all start-up companies eventually grow into a Facebook or Google. But that is not to say small, successful companies cannot contribute substantially to the economy of South Africa – either directly, through job creation, or indirectly, through the positioning of South Africa as a country to be invested in, according to ex-Matie, Schalk Nolte, now the CEO of the highly successful Stellenbosch-based software company, Entersekt.

“I believe Stellenbosch University has a major role to play in the establishment of an entrepreneurial culture in our country,” says Schalk. “Silicon Valley, for instance, was established through mutual co-operation between universities and industry. And look where that has placed the software industry in the USA!”

“Entrepreneurship is a culture. The sooner this culture is promoted and nurtured in South Africa, the bigger the opportunity for smaller companies to grow. Creating a supportive environment is like creating an ecosystem with a creative energy of its own, one that is conducive to invention.”

Schalk makes the point that “it is easier to establish ten companies with 50 staff members each, than establishing a company that employs 500 people, which is why the support effort should be aimed at the start-ups. This will generate further examples of success, encouraging more young people to take the risk.

“Of course,” he adds, “not all small entrepreneurs succeed on the first attempt, but many learn from the experience and start again – the more people try, the more small success stories we will have, and the greater the chances of some, at least, growing into large enterprises.

“Entrepreneurs should be encouraged to take the leap. When I studied electrical engineering at SU, most of the best students in the class focused on applying for jobs at large corporates. They should rather have been encouraged to go into the business world and make a difference through their own creative efforts!”

Schalk believes that support for start-ups should include easy access to essential information. He imagines “a type of starter pack with information on the pitfalls of such an undertaking, directions on where to find the relevant legal and business resources, and how to access funding".

“Funding is, of course, an enormous challenge for most entrepreneurs. You may have a great new idea but, to take it anywhere, you need the funding. Banks want you to prove your success before they will fund you. It’s a Catch-22 situation. At Entersekt, we were fortunate enough to eventually find an investor who saw the potential of our technology. A system should be put in place that makes it easier for a start-up to access funding.”

Entersekt is a very encouraging example of a small start-up that has been successful beyond its founders’ wildest dreams. As Master’s students in the SU Engineering Faculty, the four – Christiaan Brand, Niel Müller, Dewald Nolte and Altus van Tonder – worked around the clock for over a year to develop their novel new concept for secure authentication of online banking transactions. Their revolutionary technology was patented in 2008 when the company was formally established.

Entersekt offers a two-factor authentication system that creates a secure, out-of-band communication channel between a financial institution and its customers’ mobile devices. The company’s one-of-a-kind approach harnesses the power of electronic certificate technology with the convenience of mobile phones to provide financial institutions and their customers with full protection from fraud in the online banking and card-not-present spaces. Certificates are deployed using Entersekt’s mobile application, Transakt, available for hundreds of models of phone on the iOS, BlackBerry, Android, Windows Phone and Java platforms. Transakt verifies both the bank and the mobile device, eliminating the need for expensive hardware tokens or cumbersome one-time passwords. The bank retains full control over registering users and all communication is encrypted end-to-end, so that it cannot be intercepted by outside parties. No other company offers anything like it.

Since 2008, the company has grown in leaps and bounds, with most major banks in South Africa now signed on as clients. Entersekt is currently breaking into the international market and has recently established offices in London and Atlanta. “We have over 50 staff members currently, all of whom have a 'can-do' attitude and are committed to our culture of excellence,” says Schalk proudly. With such a team on board, watch this space!

Football revolution kicks off in Stellenbosch

InnovUS is the driving force behind the football development initiative that is set to revolutionise football in Stellenbosch – both on the university campus and in the communities surrounding it. The Stellenbosch University (SU) Football Programme aims to elevate the skills, expertise and prestige of the Maties First Football team and, simultaneously, to invest in the development of football skills at grassroots level in the communities in and around Stellenbosch. Thanks to a proven track record of excellent project management skills and innovative thinking, InnovUS has been appointed to manage the programme for the University.

One of the aims of the SU Football Programme is to groom the Maties First Football team into a first class team. This will be achieved by means of top notch administration, team restructuring, improved talent identification and recruitment, investment in coach education and full-time scientific support and testing. “Our world class facilities, expertise in the field of sport science and our geographical location all mean that we are ideally positioned to build the SU Football Programme into the leading football development programme in South Africa,” says InnovUS CEO Anita Nel.

In order to roll out the community development programme, InnovUS has partnered with ForwardZone, South Africa's premier football management company, to boost football skills from primary school level onwards. Community projects completed this year thus far include the Stellenbosch Primary Schools Knockout Cup, in which 1 100 pupils from 18 Stellenbosch primary schools participated and the Tottenham Hotspurs International Player Development Programme, held at Paul Roos Gymnasium. “We are immensely proud to be involved in this initiative which creates various opportunities for communities and future football stars,” says ForwardZone’s Ashley Kotzin.

Future community projects planned for the year include the installation of four solar-powered floodlights at a community football pitch near Stellenbosch, and the presentation of a Royal Netherlands Football Association (KNVB) Coach Education Course during July.

SIC’s impact even greater this year

A total of 87 entries were received for this year’s Stellenbosch Idea Competition (SIC). These include 37 fresh business ideas, 32 Android applications and 18 operational solutions. R100 000 in prize money is up for grabs in these three categories plus invaluable mentorship support.

The SIC provides aspiring entrepreneurs with a golden opportunity to start a business. All winners will be able to develop their business ideas in the supportive environment created by InnovUS while studying for their degree or working at the SU, says JD Labuschagne, Junior Business Developer at InnovUS.

“This year’s competition is building on the success of 2012 and is making an even greater impact on campus. We have an active Facebook page featuring news about the competition. This page has already received 420 likes where news about the competition is distributed. Facebook and also Twitter provide us with a wonderful platform to market the competition.”

Participants received assistance in evaluating the viability of their ideas during four work sessions held from 9 April onwards. At the first work session Mluleki Khoza, director of the Amazwe Group, gave a talk on how to identify the value proposition and market viability of one’s idea.

A total of 45 students attended the work session on the development of Android applications, 50 students the work session on idea formation and 16 students the work session on operational challenges. According to JD, the latter category is expected to attract more interest in future.

Participants must submit a business model by 10 May. The best ideas, operational solutions and Android applications will then be selected. Those teams will then be invited to a work session on how to present their ideas to venture capitalists. The winners of each category will be announced after the final presentation on 20 August.

Innovation goes extreme

Maties have the opportunity to provide innovative solutions for real world problems. That was the message conveyed at a Mavericks event on 17 April in the Neelsie cinema.

The evening kicked off with a documentary about students from the University of Stanford in the USA who provide fresh and affordable solutions for crippling problems in developing countries.

In the documentary, one team went to Bangladesh and managed to develop a pump and drip system that allows babies to survive the early stages of tuberculosis. Another group travelled to an Indonesian island where they helped locals store water for the dry season.

This was meant to inspire students from Stellenbosch University to participate in this year’s Stellenbosch Idea Competition (SIC), hosted by InnovUS.

Prof Gert-Jan van Rooyen from the MIH media lab and Ashley Uys, Managing Director of Real World Diagnostics and Diagnostics by Design, were the guest speakers. Prof Van Rooyen focuses on bringing together people from disparate backgrounds and leading them in addressing real world problems.

Ashley Uys’s company exports malaria-kits across Africa. He got his break as an entrepreneur by participating in idea competitions. But the climb from there has been a steep one. He especially highlighted the difficulties involved with start-ups. “Having a design is one thing, but bringing it to the market is something completely different.”

He encouraged students to take part in the idea competition, stating it as one of the best platforms from which you can build yourself a future as innovator and entrepreneur. “There are many problem-sets in your immediate environment, and here you have a chance to bring innovative solutions for these real world problems.”

Three more Mavericks events are planned for the rest of the year: on 30 July, 17 September and 1 October. According to JD Labuschagne, Junior Business Developer at InnovUS, biotechnology, agricultural sciences and cellphone applications will be highlighted at these events.

Make sure you diarise these dates!

SensiCardiac used in screening sport participants

Diacoustic Medical Devices, an InnovUS spin-out company, has partnered with The JAG Foundation* to encourage healthy living and greater sportsmanship among the youth in the Western Cape.

The JAG Foundation heart screening project was launched at Mitchells Plain Primary School in March and followed up in April at Yellow Wood Primary School, also in Mitchells Plain. The project is aimed at screening for cardiovascular defects among young sports participants, as well as promoting healthy lifestyles.

Altogether 87 children’s hearts were screened by a general practitioner from Claremont Medical, Dr Nuraan Mammon who used Diacoustic’s cardiac diagnostic software programme, SensiCardiac, in verifying abnormal cardiac sounds.

Two classifications of abnormal heart sounds either indicate a functional or normal heart murmur (loud sounds of the heart/veins due to turbulence of blood flow) or more severe, a pathological murmur (restrictions of the opening of a heart valve), explains Dr Mammon.

“Different murmurs are audible in different parts of the cardiac cycle, depending on the cause of the murmur. It normally takes years of experience for a physician to diagnose these murmurs with confidence. SensiCardiac was specifically developed to assist physicians in making this diagnosis.”

Cardiovascular disease is the largest cause of sudden death in young sports participants. In South African rugby, particularly at school and club level, pre-participation screening is rarely conducted due to a lack of resources and skills. In designing a pre-participation screening programme, the challenge is to be able to “red flag” potentially serious cardiovascular risk factors, says Thys Cronjé, Director of Diacoustic Medical Devices.

“The early detection process will not only emphasise the seriousness of congenital heart defects among children, but can encourage children to keep their hearts healthy by maintaining a healthy and active lifestyle.”

No other programme is currently available allowing for testing children’s hearts in a sports environment. It is a very important factor in growing up, especially in these communities with low-cost health systems, he says.

*The JAG Foundation aims to keep children off the street, away from societal issues such as gangsterism and drug and alcohol abuse and providing them with alternative lifestyles. Sport is used to teach children various life skills, thus providing them with a game plan for life.

Piet Steyn receives MT Steyn medal

The SA Academy of Science and Arts awarded the MT Steyn Medal for Scientific and Technical Achievement to Prof Piet Steyn, former Senior Director: Research at the Stellenbosch University and currently member of InnovUS’s Technology Advisory Group. He will receive it in September this year at an award ceremony in Stellenbosch together with other medallists.

The MT Steyn Medal is awarded for creative contributions to the development, organisation and continuous expansion of the sciences or technology. It must be regarded as a significant and important contribution to the promotion of science or technology and must be applied successfully in the interest of South Africa.

This medal is regarded as the crown on a life’s work and is awarded only once to a person.

Prof Steyn, an organic chemist, was among others Head of the Organic Chemistry Division at the CSIR’s National Chemistry Research Laboratory, the founding director of the CSIR’s Division of Food Science and Technology (the current CSIR Biosciences), headed the Department of Chemistry at the University of Potchefstroom and was involved at the SU’s Research Development Department from 1999 to 2008.

He says it is very satisfying to be acknowledged by his colleagues with this prestigious award. “I have been fortunate to work with the most talented and loyal researchers during my career and they also deserve full recognition.”

Prof Steyn believes that research must be of local interest, but must still meet the international norms of the highest excellence. His research was aimed at biologically active substances of natural origin, in particular mycotoxins – toxins produced by fungi on grains and nuts. He believes research is done optimally in team context and he has achieved great success with this in South Africa and internationally.

He also served the international science community as President of IUPAC (International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry, Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, USA), President of ICC (The International Association of Cereal Science and Technology, Vienna, Austria), and as member of ICSU committees (International Council for Science) in Paris, France. 

InnovUS IP attorneys claim international award

Von Seidels, InnovUS’s resident intellectual property attorneys, has been named as the South African intellectual property firm of the year. The award was made by the international title Managing Intellectual Property in London on Wednesday, 17 April.

Von Seidels is the first firm in the Western Cape to be awarded this honour, which is based on a peer review, client feedback and recognition by international intellectual property institutions. Von Seidels, which specialises in intellectual property matters, such as trademarks and patent law, was founded in 2007. The firm’s head office is located at Century City, while a satellite office is run from Somerset West. The firm’s patent law team consists of electronic, chemical, mechatronic and civil engineers, chemists, as well as a pharmacist.