Innovus e-news 23rd edition

December 2013

A view of the past year

And it just keeps on getting better and better! Innovus, the university-industry interaction and innovation company of Stellenbosch University (SU), has performed exceptionally well this past year – and not only on the numbers front, but also in terms of new projects and initiatives undertaken.

“We have a new logo and brand which are symbolic of the changes we as a company has undergone this year. We have expanded our services and now plays a broader and more extensive role on campus,” says Anita Nel, Senior Director: Innovation and Business Development at the SU and Innovus CEO.

Innovus has concluded the highest number of licences across various industries in its history, totalling 16 for the year, while two more are still being negotiated. “We have also registered 14 provisional patents and received 23 disclosures. These numbers are proof of the high quality of research done by our researchers and the subsequent activities undertaken by Innovus to support this – whether it is technology transfercommercialisation, or entrepreneurship.

Another groundbreaking and historic event of the past year was the opening of the LaunchLab, SU’s very own business accelerator currently situated in the Admin A building, which functions as the hub of entrepreneurial activity on the SU campus. “Universities worldwide are establishing business accelerators not separate from the university, but closer to the university’s knowledge generation. We ask ourselves what is the profile of students leaving our University, how are they positioned and how are they prepared for the future and the economy? By the time you get your degree, your entrepreneurial instincts must have been sharpened to such an extent that you can start your own business and make a success of it – creating employment for yourself and others,” said SU Rector and Vice-Chancellor Professor Russel Botman at the opening of the LaunchLab in August 2013.

In keeping with the drive towards the establishment of an entrepreneurial culture on campus, the annual Stellenbosch Idea Competition (SIC) produced its share of budding entrepreneurs who each received R10 000 to make their ideas a reality. A further initiative that forms part of the LaunchLab’s aim to support entrepreneurs, students and researchers, is the creation of the Acceleration Hours initiative in terms of which entrepreneurs are given access to business coaches and even dedicated mentorships.

Innovus does not shy away from change and challenges, and has thus taken full responsibility for the management and growth of football at SU. The SU Football Programme aims to elevate the skills, expertise and prestige of Maties Football and, simultaneously, to invest in the development of football skills at grassroots level in the football playing communities in and around Stellenbosch. “We are very proud to have been tasked with this initiative. I believe it is due to our proven track record of excellent project management skills and innovative thinking,” says Anita.

According to Anita, Innovus - in addition to all these new initiatives this past year - still focuses strongly on supporting researchers in taking their ideas to market. “The commercialisation of SU’s intellectual property (IP) has grown considerably and we also introduced a new type of license which proved to be very popular with industry. We are becoming more actively involved in entrepreneurship development and the establishment of new companies in order to commercialise SU knowledge and IP.”

Testimony to this is the access to the Technology Innovation Agency (TIA) of the Department of Science and Technology’s TIA Seed Fund which will assist universities to translate their research outputs into fundable ideas for commercialisation. “This is excellent news for SU as it allows us to bring our research closer to the market and thereby increasing our chances of successfully commercialising our projects,” says Anita.

“We are grateful for the trust that our researchers, entrepreneurs and of course University management has placed in us. We look forward to 2014!”

More stats

Innovus can boast the following for the past year:

  • 445 registered short courses (The Short Courses Division of the SU forms part of Innovus)
  • 13 PCT applications
  • National patents: 29
  • Increase our turnover from tech transfer activities with more than R600 000 on 2012 figures.

SIC winners gain insight at cutting-edge Deloitte workshop

The nine Stellenbosch Idea Competition (SIC) winners recently benefited from a cutting-edge business strategic workshop, presented by professional services firm Deloitte. The workshop, which took place at the end of November, gave participants the opportunity to advance their winning ideas with the help of leading business modelling technology.

The SIC, an initiative of Innovus and the recently established LaunchLab, aims to encourage staff and students of Stellenbosch University to commercialise their promising business ideas. At the workshop Deloitte Digital took the winners through their accelerated strategy process, usually reserved for clients. By means of Next Generation Collaboration (NGC) technology, the participants were able to test their thinking and gain insights from everyone else in the room. “All participants were given an iPad at the beginning of the session on which to record their feedback on all the ideas presented, via ThinkTank software. The participants could also vote for the best presentation at the end of the workshop, using the technology,” explains Christina Harvett, Project Coordinator at Innovus.

After an interactive brainstorming session in the larger group, the nine winners broke up into their teams, consisting of the SIC mentors, representatives from Deloitte and industry experts, to refine their ideas before pitching them to the entire group in the final session of the morning.

“By using NGC, we were able to help each team significantly progress their business ideas, enabling them to identify, assess and address the business critical opportunities and challenges regarding their ideas. This, along with benefiting from the collective experience and insights of the business, industry and academic experts who joined us, is where we see real value of NGC coming into play,” says workshop facilitator Rafe Dyer, of Deloitte Digital.

According to Christina, the workshop was a great opportunity for the SIC winners to hone their entrepreneurial skills. “The workshop has helped to prepare the students on how to think about their business ideas and about innovation in general. In this regard, the workshop is not so much about the winning ideas, as it is about the person. In all probability it will not be the current ideas that will successfully launch the students’ careers, but perhaps their next ‘big idea’. We want to equip them with commercial knowledge and give them insight into what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur – so they will know how to make their big idea work.”

Stellenbosch-based Deloitte partner Michael van Wyk echoes these sentiments. “Through our involvement with SIC and these talented young innovators, we hope to see a fresh crop of entrepreneurial job creators join the business sector, shake things up with their creative, disruptive thinking and ultimately drive growth in our economy,” he says.

Feedback from the SIC winners who participated in the workshop was overwhelmingly positive. “It was an exceptionally innovative experience, by far the most interactive and informative workshop I have attended. The Deloitte team did an excellent job,” says Chris Coetzee from CUDA.

Michelle Laubscher, whose peer-to-peer education solution earned her a winning position in this year’s SIC, is equally enthusiastic. “I was on the verge of giving up, because it seemed that my idea was just going to stay an idea forever. But after the workshop and the insights of all those amazing, helpful and successful people, I really have a new hope for my project and I am so excited to use all the contacts I've made and all the things I've learned to transfer my idea into an innovation,” she says.

The Deloitte workshop formed part of the LaunchLab’s participation in Global Entrepreneurship Week. Based on the extremely positive response from both participants and facilitators, it is hoped that the workshop will become a regular feature on the Innovus/LaunchLab calendar.

Innovus and Von Seidels celebrate their success

  Back from left to right: Elmien Lovell (Innovus), Charles Marais (Innovus), Dirk van Dyk (Von Seidels), Ralph van Niekerk (Von Seidels), Mike von Seidel (Von Seidels), Anita Nel (Innovus), Stephen Middleton (Von Seidels). Front from left to right: Llewellyn du Toit (Von Seidels), Sameshnee Pelly (Von Seidels), Érik van der Vyver (Von Seidels), Daniell Jacobs (Innovus), Doris Peters (Innovus), Venessa Williams (Innovus), Carol Kat (Innovus)

Intellectual Property (IP) firm Von Seidels and Innovus recently celebrated their working relationship of almost seven years, including the filing of 385 patents during this period. At a function held on 6 December, Anita Nel, Innovus CEO and Senior Director: Innovation and Business Development at Stellenbosch University (SU) praised the Von Seidels team for their commitment to their clients, and their passion and expertise in the field of IP law.

The working relationship between Von Seidels and Innovus began in March 2007. “The first patent application that was filed by Von Seidels in May 2007 on behalf of Innovus was for ‘A yarn and a process for manufacture thereof’ of Dr Eugene Smit. This patent was the first in a series of patents of Dr Smit that lead to the establishment of the Stellenbosch Nanofiber Company (SNC),” says Von Seidels Patent Attorney Érik van der Vyver.

This was the beginning of a very successful relationship between the two institutions. To date, Von Seidels has filed 385 patent applications on behalf of Innovus, and also offers their services as ‘resident IP attorneys’ at the Innovus offices every Wednesday. “The concept of having a resident IP attorney on hand at a local technology transfer office is, to the best of our knowledge, unique to Innovus,” says Érik. “We advise many students and academics in this manner. On most Wednesdays we have a number of appointments at Innovus.”

The Von Seidels internship programme also adds considerable value to both parties. “We provide an internship for a Von Seidels candidate patent attorney once every three months. The intern is given the opportunity to gain experience in the marketing of technology, the negotiations surrounding the technology and the market research of projects,” explains Anita. “When the intern qualifies as attorney and work on some of our projects, they have in-depth knowledge about how we function at Innovus and they know the researchers and Innovus staff well.”

Von Seidels was recently named as the South African intellectual property firm of the year by the international title Managing Intellectual Property at a function in London. They are the first Western Cape firm to be awarded this honour. The Von Seidels team includes the expertise of electrical, electronic, chemical, mechatronic and civil engineers, a number of scientists as well as a pharmacist. “Aside from their proven expertise in the field of IP law, Von Seidels has demonstrated their commitment by building solid relationships with our researchers by being available on campus on a weekly basis, and even over weekends, during crisis times,” says Anita.

“Our relationship with Innovus is extremely productive, progressive and symbiotic,” adds Érik. Anita concurs, adding that, although the two parties do not have an exclusivity agreement, the excellent service and commitment demonstrated by the entire Von Seidels team ensures that negotiations surrounding intellectual property and the filing of patents always proceed as efficiently as possible.

Innovative compound separates xylenes more effectively

Separating xylenes into their three isomeric forms is a complicated and expensive process. However, Prof. Len Barbour, DST/NRF Research Chair, and his team have found a highly effective way of doing this by using a single crystalline chemical compound.

Exploiting the principles of crystal engineering to design new functional materials, the Supramolecular Materials Chemistry Group led by Prof. Barbour is particularly interested in the encapsulation of small compounds by molecular assemblies. During the past two years they have been focusing on finding a more effective way of separating all three isomeric forms of xylene.

“Derived from crude oil, xylenes are important chemicals used in a wide range of industrial and commercial applications, such as fuel additives and plastics,” says Prof. Barbour. “However, xylenes comprise three closely-related compounds, called ortho-, meta- and para-xylene, which need to be separated and purified before being used. Of the three, para-xylene is the most valuable, because it is used in very high volumes in packing industries, for example, for mineral water and carbonated soft drink bottles. Para-xylene is also the basic chemical foundation used in the textile industry for making polyester fabrics.”

Prof. Barbour’s group has shown that by absorbing a mixture of all three xylenes into a crystalline compound, they can be separated in a simple, but highly effective way. This is the first time a single absorbent compound can be used to separate all three compounds into highly pure products.

“The way in which the separation is normally done, is to use one process to take out one of the xylenes, meaning that you are left with a mixture of the other two,” explains Prof. Barbour. “You then have to use a completely different process to separate those two xylenes. We have shown that once you have taken out the first component, you can feed the mixture of the remaining two compounds through the same process and then use exactly the same setup to separate them from each other. The idea is thus that you only need one type of setup instead of two different types to separate out all three compounds.”

Although methods to separate the three isomeric forms of xylenes already exist, this new approach is a much more efficient separating method. Innovus is currently in the process of patenting the Supramolecular Materials Chemistry Group’s improvement internationally and will also be seeking licensees for this pioneering approach.

Cost-effective turbine set to make a huge difference

Stellenbosch Wind Energy Technologies (SWET) celebrated great success recently when it erected its first official prototype – a 15kW slip synchronous permanent magnet generator (SSPMG).

An Innovus spin-out company since 2011, SWET started out as a company that specialises in the manufacturing and installation of small wind turbines. However, when it was tasked by Stellenbosch University (SU) to develop the current prototype and provided with funding by the Technology Innovation Agency (TIA), the team leapt at the opportunity.

Connected to the power network at the beginning of October, the turbine had already generated more than 1500kWh of electricity without a hitch eight weeks later. Set up at Elsenburg, the power it generates is currently fed into the SU’s network, which has reduced the university’s electricity bill substantially.

Pierre van Aswegen, owner of Regal 3 and interim General Manager of SWET, says especially farms or businesses in remote areas will be able to take advantage of this prototype to reduce their electricity costs. Other industries that have high electricity demands and mostly rely on diesel generators will also benefit significantly from the SSPMG.

What is planned for the future?
“We are currently building a second prototype to enhance this technology even further,” says Pierre. “It will also be hosted at Elsenburg and the plan is to set it up by the end of January 2014.

“To extract value from this technology, turbines need to be able to withstand gale-force winds over considerable periods. To this end we are planning on building six more units over the next year, which will be placed in different locations to test and try their durability,” Pierre explains.

The SWET team recently attended two international conferences and also visited the proposed certification site in Scotland. With the knowledge gained from these events they will look into the potential for the product in the international market and prepare for the international certification of their product in 2014.

New opportunities await Christle

Initially wanting to combine architecture and interior decoration or become a fashion designer, but then decided on enrolling for a BSc degree, followed by a Master’s degree in Genetics. However, today there is little that Christle de Beer, Innovus’s new Technology Transfer Officer, does not know about technology transfer and intellectual property (IP).

“While busy with my Master’s in Genetics at the Free State University (FSU) I also did an NRF internship,” Christle explains. “My employer at FSU was a valuable mentor who provided me with excellent exposure to IP, which eventually resulted in a permanent position in technology transfer at Kovsies.”

During the next three years she attended local and international work and training sessions, acquiring a thorough overview of IP management structures as well as a better understanding of the variances in IP legislation.

One of the working sessions Christle attended, was at Innovus and she was very impressed with and excited about what she learnt and saw at Innovus.

“The people at Innovus are very good at what they do. Out of all the technology transfer offices in the country, Innovus has been in operation the longest and it was exciting to see how far advanced this office already is.

“Stellenbosch University also has a fantastic culture: The students have the confidence to approach Innovus with their ideas and the researchers are more accessible for the development process.”

Christle was appointed as Technology Transfer Officer at Innovus on 1 November, and she is responsible for the evaluation of patents and ideas for commercial potential and for the marketing of tech ideas and financial feasibility studies. Since she is also interested in business development, it is envisaged that she will be involved in the business development process for which she will be trained systematically.