Technology Innovation Agency (TIA)

Technology Innovation Agency (TIA)

The Technology Innovation Agency (TIA), a division of the Department of Science and Technology, created the TIA Seed Fund to support the funding of innovation-oriented projects undertaken at Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) and Science Councils (SCs). HEIs and SCs can apply for initial funding from the TIA Seed Fund to enable them to develop their ideas into fundable applications. In 2013 TIA made R25 million available for such investments. The TIA Seed fund will contribute up to R500 000 per innovation-oriented project at HEIs and SCs and thereby grow the TIA investment pipeline. The funding is provided to projects undertaken at HEIs and SCs (a level of outsourcing to third party contractors is permitted), or to Spin-off Companies that are based on IP emanating from these institutions.

TIA's primary objective with this funding is to increase the quality and quantity of investment proposals from HEIs and SCs and to increase the rate of commercialization of viable intellectual property from South African technologies emanating from these institutions.

The TIA Seed Fund and SU as a modern research-based entrepreneurial university, strive in many ways towards the same lofty goals to promote research and innovation. Therefore, SU welcomed the TIA Seed Fund and delegated its management to Innovus, the university industry interaction and innovation company. Innovus is ideally positioned for this task owing to its responsibility for technology transfer, entrepreneurial support and development, and innovation. Innovus is well-equipped to manage the commercialisation of the University’s innovation output and intellectual property portfolio through patenting, licensing and the formation of spin-out companies.

In 2013, Innovus invited SU researchers to submit proposals for funding by the TIA Seed Fund. A substantial number of researchers responded and 24 proposals for funding were received. Innovus provides guidance to researchers with the preparation of their research proposals, for online submission to the TIA Seed Fund. The assessment and approval of the funding proposals are effectively managed by the SU TIA Seed Fund Committee. The SU TIA Seed Fund Committee comprises senior representatives of the TIA Seed Fund in the Western Cape, members of Innovus, leading researchers from the SET and health sciences faculties, and experienced members of the private sector. The Committee is chaired by Professor Leopoldt van Huyssteen, Executive Director Operations and Finance at SU.

The adjudication involves presentations to the SU TIA Seed Fund Committee by the project leaders, clarification of the proposals and decision taking by the SU TIA Seed Fund Committee, and eventually informing the project leaders of the outcomes. Senior members of Innovus serve as Project Managers to assist the project leaders during the execution of the projects and to evaluate the commercial success and financial viability of the project outcomes; Piet Steyn liaises with the project leaders on the technical progress and in the preparation of their quarterly reports to the management of the TIA Seed Fund, Western Cape.

The investment in projects are analysed and evaluated in terms of their technical progress at regular meetings of the SU TIA Seed Fund Committee and formally reported to Mr Saberi Marais, Business Development Manager: Western Cape and Northern Cape for TIA.

The key investment requirements are:

  • Protected or protectable intellectual property;
  • The potential attractiveness of the product or service in the targeted market;
  • Significant potential for further investment by TIA or other investors and/or a competitive intellectual property position and where registration is in national benefit;
  • The availability of TIA Seed Funds .

The following activities will be considered for support by TIA Seed Funds:

  • Initial proof of concept;
  • Product, Process and Prototype development;
  • Sourcing of IP opinions;
  • Production of market samples and/or associated testing, analytical data and method development and specification sheet development;
  • Refining and implementing designs, and conducting field studies;
  • Piloting and scale-up and techno-economic evaluation;
  • Detailed primary market research, or specialist consulting;
  • Business Plan Development.

Since 2013 seventeen TIA Seed Fund projects were approved at SU for funding. One project was terminated owing to lack of market interest. Substantial progress has been made to date. Example are new technology directed at making South Africa’s shores safe from shark attacks and installation of solar energy batteries in the rural areas of Transkei. More reports on TIA Seed Fund projects will appear in the next INNOVUS newsletter.