InnovUS e-news 4th edition
Friday, 12 March 2010
InnovUS facilitates a successful journey from lab to market
InnovUS has gathered the expertise of a range of industry leaders in a booklet compiled specifically for inventors and researchers. The new InnovUS guide for entrepreneurs wishing to commercialise their ideas, supplies valuable information on key aspects of innovation, ranging from patents and business plans to company formation and legal and tax issues, in an effort to bridge the gap between research and the market.
Anita Nel, Chief Executive Officer, says: "We are most grateful to each of the contributors of this publication for sharing their insights and business acumen with us and for adding unique and significant value to this book."
InnovUS, as Stellenbosch University's wholly owned technology transfer company, manages the commercialisation of intellectual property and innovation from one of the leading universities on the African continent, delivering world-class science and research output. However, Anita points out that bringing these breakthroughs to the market can be very challenging.
"We believe that this guide will be a very useful resource for any entrepreneur who wants to commercialise an idea. The topics were chosen with great care to provide a broad overview and a practical foundation for innovation, but specific advice will be needed for each commercial transaction," says Anita.
In his introduction to the booklet Prof Leopoldt van Huyssteen, Executive Director of Operations and Finance, says: "It is our hope that you will use this information to join the growing ranks of our groundbreaking inventors and researchers."
He adds that InnovUS is a pioneer in the field of technology transfer and InnovUS inventors and researchers continue to set new standards and stretch the boundaries of what is considered possible in the innovations space.
"InnovUS has registered 52 patents, both locally and internationally - this is an incredible performance for an initiative that has only been in existence for a decade," says Prof Van Huyssteen.
The content of the booklet primarily addresses how to take an idea to a patent, a patent to the market, and then how to ensure profitability, while also giving valuable information on licensing patents and setting up spin-out companies.
The InnovUS guide will be available for download from the InnovUS website, in hard copy at the InnovUS office as well as in e-copy on a CD shortly.
Three teams from Stellenbosch University are taking part in the national rounds of the annual Innovation competition. They were selected as institutional winners in the local stage of the competition. The goal of the prestigious event is to encourage the commercialisation of innovations of young entrepreneurs such as the developers of PowerMon, Training Buggy and uMove. InnovUS is currently in the process of patenting all of these unique inventions.
Team members from all three teams agree that the support from InnovUS is outstanding. "They are not only thorough, but also passionate about the process," says Frank Janse van Vuuren, co-inventor of Training Buggy.
David van den Heever, co-inventor of uMove, adds that InnovUS' support during the competition period is of "immeasurable value". "We would not have been able to do it without them. We appreciate their input and professionalism throughout the entire process."
Dr Coenrad Fourie and his team developed PowerMon, a low cost power meter.
"This competition proves once again how innovative Stellenbosch University is and we predict that Stellenbosch will do very well in the national rounds," says Dr Fourie. "The highlight of the process thus far is, of course, to be one of the top three teams chosen at Stellenbosch University! With Stellenbosch's record in the national round, we hope to excel in the competition along with the other two teams."
He adds that the team learned a lot at the competition workshop held in Cape Town in January.
"The highlight of the workshop was the one-on-one contact with mentors. It is not always easy to get people with successful businesses to assist you as they don't have a lot of time."
Dr Fourie says the team's first prototype has already been built and the next step is to build another prototype for mass production. If given another chance to enter the competition again in the future, Dr Fourie says he would certainly do so.
Frank Janse van Vuuren's and his team, Edward Ehlers, Ruan van der Merwe and Pieter Greeff, has the competitive edge in the athletics field with their unique project, Training Buggy.
"I would definitely take part in the competition again if given the chance. The prize money is attractive, but the support we received is the most important."
Mr Janse van Vuuren adds that the team has learned that a substantial amount of work is necessary to turn an idea into a working concept with a business plan.
"But hard work is nothing for four engineers," he says.
The team is currently focusing on making changes which resulted from tests done in the field as they have already applied for patenting and an industrial design company is finalising the product appearance.
David van den Heever and his team developed uMove, a patient-specific knee replacement product. He says the team is currently developing a testing prototype and running computer simulations of the product.
Mr van den Heever says the process has taught him that it is both hard work and very challenging to start a business and that proper financing is imperative.
The private sector's loss is InnovUS' considerable gain as Philip Marais joins the company as business developer on a part-time basis. A small business coach who holds a Masters degree in Mechanical Engineering, he manages the commercialisation of a number of projects at InnovUS. This mammoth task will include the successful identification and protection of intellectual property, determining routes to market and finding markets for new technologies.
Philip is currently responsible, and in some cases jointly responsible, for at least 20 projects, ranging from healthcare to airport security.
The Glaucoma Project explores a new treatment for damage to the optic nerve caused by swelling of the eyeball; MicMar is a technology for detecting the thickness of biofilms in equipment carrying fluids; PowerMon measures electrical power consumption for the consumer; Scryer will allow the detection of metal, plastic and ceramic objects by airport security systems, and LifeQ is a device which can determine the metabolic rate and muscle and fat mass of a person by analysing their breath.
When asked which exciting new projects are currently in the pipeline, Philip explains that The Water Filter Bag is currently progressing very quickly.
"The signing of an exclusive manufacturing agreement is imminent and the product has global market potential," says Philip.
It is this kind of marketing potential that InnovUS strives to achieve with projects.
Philip says: "I believe Anita and the InnovUS team, as well as the Board of Directors, have done a great job of positioning InnovUS to have real impact as a technology transfer office and I look forward to assisting them to achieve their vision."
On a personal note, Philip says he likes being back on campus. He previously spent a few years in the software development industry before becoming one of the founding members of HBD Venture Capital.
"I am enjoying being back on campus again and being part of the energy and opportunities that are there to be channelled."
InnovUS recently sent project manager Yongama Skweyiya to Oxford University to learn all he could about the best practices for technology transfer and commercialisation. He visited Isis-Innovations, which boasts a successful 20-year-long history during which it has commercialised some of the best technology to have emanated from tertiary institutions around the globe.
Yongama's visit formed part of the Department of Science and Technology's (DST) technological transfer capacity building programme. Special thanks goes to McLean Sibanda from DST's Innovation Fund; he played an instrumental role in arranging the visit as part of a list of activities of the National Intellectual Property Management Office (NIPMO).
In Yongama's own words:
"Listening to some of the successes of Isis-Innovations (Isis), the technology transfer company of Oxford University, one cannot help but feel excited about the possibilities that our small technology transfer offices or companies in South Africa can reach.
With time, we too will be able to boast about listing some of our spin-out companies on the Alternative exchange (AltX) on the South African bourse (JSE).
(My visit) gave great insight into a macro scale technology transfer company.
During the experience, I realised that as small as we are at InnovUS, we are nonetheless world class, our processes and work ethic rivals that of greatly successful technology transfer companies the likes of Isis.
Our institution, Stellenbosch University, has researchers equal to that of Oxford, where some of our technology can be equally compared to that of Oxford.
As a new entrant to the tech transfer space, it has been a great challenge to find my feet in this developing industry in South Africa.
Though numerous publications and books exist on the subject of tech transfer, none can offer in-depth experience on the issue. This is further exacerbated by the different landscape that is present in South Africa.
During my short time at Isis, I learned a lot about the technology transfer industry and its place in line with the requirements set out by the intellectual property (IP) policy of an institution as prescribed by the IPR Act of the Republic.
The experience has afforded me the opportunity to learn about and understand the whole technology transfer process from an institution that has been developing and perfecting a unique culture and system for a number of years.
Although I will not be able to use most of what I have learned, due to the infancy of the tech transfer space of South Africa, the good practices I learned afford me the ability to understand holistically how everything works and how certain systems feed into other systems.
The primary role of a tech transfer office is to commercialise IP emanating from research conducted at that specific institution. International sentiment indicates that this is by no means a third income stream generator for an institution and cognisance needs to be taken that this division or entity could, at least during the initial stage, merely be a cost point rather that a profit centre for an institution.
At Isis, the skills transfer transcended all aspects of the tech transfer office or company; from commercialising to key elements that have made Isis such a success among other tech transfer companies around the world which are making a loss.
All in all, the experience was enlightening. It helped me grow as a person and has given me the opportunity to amass new skills that I can bring to my tasks. It afforded me the ability to look at situations very differently than before I went to Oxford."
The Leadership Behaviour Inventory is a product which measures how effectively leaders meet the challenges of leading people, driving change and managing performance. LBI-2, the second version of the product, is in its final stages of development before it becomes available to companies through a licence agreement signed with an industry partner.
According to LBI-2 developer Prof Herman Spangenberg, the support he and co-developer Prof Callie Theron have received from InnovUS during the development process has been of immeasurable value. Prof Spangenberg adds that InnovUS plays a protective role in the process, ensuring that problems which may not have been foreseen by developers are solved immediately and InnovUS facilitated the licence agreement.
"I completely trust the InnovUS team and they help us to avoid any potential potholes along the way," says Prof Spangenberg.
He explains that LBI-2 is a streamlined version of the initial product.
"After extensive research and taking our own experience into account, we incorporated the valuable feedback on the first version in order to better an already successful product," says Prof Spangenberg.
The objective of LBI-2 is to assess the range of capabilities required by leaders and managers to implement major changes while sustaining unit performance. It makes use of a leadership questionnaire of 20 dimensions and four phases in order to develop a Leadership Behaviour Inventory and was designed specifically with the South African context in mind.
LBI-2 identifies areas in which a leader could benefit from development and was not developed to identify leadership potential in those who are not currently in leadership positions. It is particularly suitable for middle to senior level managers who have been in their positions for at least six months and have at least two followers reporting to them.
The benefit of LBI-2 is particularly evident when integrating the assessment feedback into a development discussion facilitated by an experienced consultant who can then assist the leader to implement a practical development plan in the workplace.
According to the LBI-2 technical manual, the main guiding principle of the product has always been that the outcome of leadership is the performance, effectiveness and health of a particular work unit and its people. "It is believed that leadership without the support of sound management skills will never 'get the Boeing off the ground'."
InnovUS will soon provide the wine industry with a new tool to produce more aromatic wines as it assists Prof Florian Franz Bauer and Prof Pierre van Rensburg with the development of PR7, a new hybrid strain of yeast. A licensing agreement has been signed with Anchor Yeast and the prestige yeast is already available to winemakers in eye-catching gold packaging.
According to Prof Bauer, strains from two different species, Saccharomyces cerevisiae and Saccharomyces paradoxus, were hybridised. The Saccharomyces cerevisiae strain was chosen for its fast and complete fermentation ability and moderate aroma production potential and the Saccharomyces paradoxus strain was selected for its ability to degrade malic acid and for its impact on aroma production during fermentation.
"Interspecies hybridisations of this nature are difficult to achieve in the first place, and are further complicated by the genetic instability of most hybrids," says Prof Bauer.
But, explains Prof Bauer, experimental wine was made with these two hybrids and it was shown that these strains had a higher aroma compound production capacity than the parental yeasts.
The quality of wine is influenced by a variety of factors, most noticeably the quality of the grapes, winemaking practices and the yeast strains used for alcoholic fermentation. According to Prof Bauer, several yeast strains are present in the must at the beginning of the fermentation process, but strains of Saccharomyces cerevisiae quickly dominate and survive alcoholic fermentations.
He says research has lead to the development of a multitude of industrial yeast starter cultures and the vast majority of these are from the species Saccharomyces cerevisiae.
"Starter cultures are usually capable of quick and complete fermentations, with minimal production of deleterious substances such as volatile acidity, H2S, SO2 and ethyl carbamate. Yeast strains should also be able to survive the stressful environment created during alcoholic fermentation. However, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, whilst offering many oenological benefits, is limited because it lacks many traits that could be of oenological interest such as pectinolytic activity and malic acid degradation capability. New and different aroma profiles may also be desirable."
Herein lies the unique advantage of hybridisation with Saccharomyces paradoxus to form PR7 yeast, says Prof Bauer. This new hybrid strain of yeast offers the wine industry an exceptional tool to facilitate the production of new wine styles.