The focus at Innovus has been, and always will be, on helping inventors and innovators to make the world a better place. Like Cargo Telematics, who are making our roads safer through accelerometer-based self-adjusting strap mount for trucks. Or SharkSafe, which is finding smarter ways to make our oceans safe – both from sharks and for sharks. Or, indeed, SNC Fibers, who developed an entirely new, and completely efficient way to electrospin nanofibres for biomedical use, making ideas like life-saving nanowire-array biosensors (another Innovus project) even more feasible and far reaching. And let's not overlook nanosensors, synthetic lung surfactant, Hydrapatch, antimicrobial resin, quad-mode antenna – the list really does go on.
But changing the word isn't always about giant leaps in science. Sometimes (in fact, I'd argue 'more often') it's the little things that have the fastest, and most lucrative impact. Especially for the many, many 'men on the street'.
Globally, innovations like the laser keyboard, the fingerprint gun safe, or the smartphone controlled entryway locking system will all make access a little easier. Tile allows you to attach 'tiles' to your oft-lost items (car-keys, wallet, TV remote – you get the idea) and an app sets off noises, meaning you can find them when you need them. What about a magnetic belt attachment that the movement-impaired can use to hold their canes when they need both hands free?
What about our furrier companions? There are some amazing little innovations for them, too. The Buster FoodCube is a large, rounded plastic dice that releases small dog biscuits at random times, encouraging pets to play more. The PetTracker attaches to collars and lets you track your pets location in real time. The PetCube allows you to play with, and even record, your fur-children from anywhere in the world. Even 'pet chipping' had to start somewhere.
Not only do short-form innovations like these make a difference, they also make a fortune. In fact, one of the most financially successful endeavours of all time to come out of Oxford's TTO is the app Clumsy Ninja. With the right partner, ideas can be successfully birthed, making the inventor a tidy supplementary income stream (the Clumsy Ninja team, Natural Motion, are now a super-successful app development house). It's pretty much good for everyone. If you're still in doubt, spend a few minutes browsing KickStarter.
We all have these little ideas that tickle at the back of our minds; it's time to let them out. Innovus is perfectly positioned to help inventors make a change (as well as make some change – har har) by bringing those epiphanies out of the brain and into the real world. All the aspects that make us a world class TTO – access to networks, research, viability and market testing and patenting – are what allow us to rapidly develop ideas into companies or license opportunities.
We move the world forward in steps, as well as leaps. If you think you've got the 'next little thing' – app, toy, gadget, smart-something, or ground-breaking idea - drop us a mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Make sure you include a summary of the overall idea, market relevance and any prototype images you can.
Scary headlines and inflammatory news is common in South Africa. Unfortunately, this article is not exaggerating: South Africa has the highest TB rate in the world. Both diagnosis and treatment of TB are particularly difficult. New testing methods are paramount to limiting two of the most important drivers of the pandemic: early initiation of treatment can limit the spread of TB and will improve the prognosis for patients. There is a phase of TB disease that we refer to as being latent infection. This is a disease state where the TB bacteria do not divide or cause disease symptoms as there is little or no immune pressure on them from the host. However latent TB can be reactivated at any time and cause illness. Current TB testing techniques are labour intensive, expensive and may not detect latent infection or low bacteraemia that is typical in HIV-positive individuals. Further, these tests are not cost-effective, they cannot always be easily administered and usually have prolonged turnaround times. A final important consideration to TB testing in the South African medical landscape is the fact that our healthcare system is still quite centralised. Collecting and transporting patient samples from remote and very often poor communities to these central testing facilities, which have the necessary laboratory equipment and a reliable electrical supply, is another major obstacle.
One of the newer molecular tests, known as the GeneXpert produces results on TB status and Rifampicin drug resistance within two hours. The GeneXpert works by amplifying up TB-specific DNA using targeted primers, reading the signal of the amplified DNA allows a binary answer of the presence of TB DNA, as well as the genetic mutations that confer resistance. Unfortunately, GeneXpert equipment is expensive, reagents used for the test have a short lifespan and due to the requirement for a stable power supply, it is logistically problematic for rural areas. For most of the older tests, sputum samples are required, which poses a challenge for children, as the collection of the sample requires a nasal tube to retrieve sputum from the stomach. Even some adults struggle to produce a sputum sample, especially in cases where they are co-infected with HIV or have extrapulmonary TB (TB that presents outside the lungs). Also, these tests require centralised facilities and thus samples have to be transported to such facilities. The cell culture-based test tends to take 6 weeks to produce a definitive negative result. The smear test, a microscopy-based assay that was developed between 1870 and 1880, is not sensitive enough to pick up roughly 50% of TB infections. Furthermore, in cases of TB infection in children and TB in the severely immunocompromised patients, such as HIV-infected individuals; this test is particularly poor at detecting the TB bacteria. This test is however still the most commonly used assay in developing countries, which is truly frightening. There are a few tests that depend on measuring the human immune reaction, and thus do not require a sputum sample. However, these tests are expensive and still require highly skilled technicians and laboratory equipment to deliver results. Further, most of these tests still do not distinguish latent TB cases from active TB disease. These challenges exacerbate problems that are already common to South African healthcare, including loss to follow-up of patients and loss of life due to a delay in initiating treatment.
A group of scientists, led by researchers at Stellenbosch University, have identified several proteins that can be measured in blood serum that is indicative of TB disease. We refer to this panel of markers for TB disease as a biosignature. This novel and now patented biosignature represents a low cost and user-friendly manner to test for TB. Clinical trials are currently taking place at multiple locations in Africa. A further aim of these trials is to refine the provisional biosignature so that the most indicative group of proteins is selected for accurate diagnosis of TB. Should this biosignature prove to be a robust test for TB, the research group will incorporate this test into a rapid lateral flow strip-based test. Such a test would only require a few drops of blood, much like blood sugar monitoring strips or the HIV rapid test. The test will indicate which proteins are increased or decreased as compared to a standard threshold, and provide a simplistic colour result, which shall be read using a portable battery-operated hand-held reader. This means the test will be able to be administered at the point of care, and will not require laboratory settings or highly specialised staff to obtain a result. This would be a revolutionary advancement for TB diagnostics as this test would be sensitive enough to detect TB irrespective of the age or the HIV status in patients. It can administered by any health care professional as only a few drops of blood and a little bit of training is necessary. Furthermore, the results of this test are almost immediate; the patient will be diagnosed within a couple of minutes. This significantly reduces the chances of loss to follow-up and means that treatment can be started immediately. This will serve to decentralise diagnostic ability, as the test can be administered anywhere, and is not dependent on electrically powered devices for a result to be obtained. The initial clinical trial carried out in South Africa, Uganda, Gambia, Malawi and Namibia has produced promising results so far and has shown that the biosignature remains indicative of TB disease irrespective of ethnicity. Ultimately, it's looking progressively like this super-quick and super-easy TB test will save many lives. The medical and clinical advancements coming out of this African collaborative effort are encouraging and represents a sterling example of the vision for driving innovation to address pertinent issues within our own continent.
Photo credit: Damien Schumann
If you have the passion, drive and a really, really good idea but… have no idea where to go from there, don't worry; you are in good company, and you're definitely not alone. Most schools still don't teach entrepreneurial skills, even though they are among the most critical tools for surviving these days. But if there is one place that these skills exist in bucketloads, it is Innovus – after all, helping entrepreneurial companies through each phase of their growth is what we do.
As such, Innovus and Stellenbosch University's Natural Science Council decided to make our own contribution to the knowledge economy by hosting a 2-day, interactive workshop with the University's science students.
But don't for a minute think this was your 'standard' lecture type learning... Knowledge injection happened thanks to talks from TIA's Saberi Marais on funding, Rowan Josephs from Von Seidels on IP rights and Eugene Smit CEO of (one of Innovus' most outstanding spin-out companies) SNC Fibers, who took the audience on a journey of exactly what he experienced while building his business. At the same time, Innovus facilitators Charlotte, Johnathan, Nolene and William helped the students get their hands dirty by 'running' fictional businesses based on real innovations. Much of the true workshop aspect was based on the methodology of the business model canvass , which allows entrepreneurs to "describe, design, challenge invent and pivot" their business models. It was the kind of session where you walk out twice as knowledgeable as when you walked in and, if you have ever met any of the science students, you'll know that's saying a fair amount…
Many knowledge gaps were plugged: from commercialisation of inventions and dealing with retailers, to patenting and licensing and even included the role of a TTO (which, as you know, is Innovus) in the mix. Even thought it was the first of its kind to happen at Stellenbosch University, the Science Faculty are already gunning for an annual event for their students, while Innovus is concurrently rolling it out to the other departments.
Knowledge is power and 2017 is going to see many new things. Some of these will be coming from an enlightened and inspired Science Faculty, now that they know what to expect. Others will be the result of the planned public role-out of the workshop, which is designed to expose those outside our system to Innovus, the LaunchLab and our Knowledge Acceleration Programme.
Stay tuned for details on the next workshop! Alternatively, if you'd rather not wait, feel free to bug William Cloete at email@example.com.
The feeling of someone leaving is never pleasant... even when that feeling is surpassed by one of excitement and pride. Our Johnathan, 'Captain Calculator', is off to (literally) greener pastures as the new Cape Town Team Leader for Deloitte's Greenhouse. In fact, by the time you read this, his chair will be cold, his parking space empty, and his browsing history cleared.
The effect he's had on us, and the University, over the last 2 and a half years has been tremendous. He was one of the two early LaunchLab team members, before we even had a space for it, and it's thanks to him (and Philip) that it's grown to the scale it has. There are many entrepreneurs and SMMEs who can thank him for their own success, and we believe the overall culture that grew in (and is representative of) of the LaunchLab space was due to his energy - in fact, it was John who insisted we had to represent the cultures of the start-ups with whom we work.
His role at the LaunchLab was to innovate, accelerate, brainstorm, solve problems, attract investment and push the limits of where business can go – which is exactly what he'll be doing for corporate clients at Deloitte. But we know that the understanding of grassroots innovation, lean thinking and a refusal to settle for mediocre will be a huge boon to big business (who traditionally move slower than dry paint on a level surface).
Having spoken to Johnathan, the things he's going to miss the most here are the community he's helped to create, the tumultuous start-up environment and the reality check you receive daily. "Just when you think you know it all," he says, "You realise you don't". Having spoken to Innovus CEO Anita, it's the über-networking and his ability to make innovation really matter, that'll be missed. "He's a wonderful reflection of Innovus. He's one of the family." And having spoken to almost the entire Innovus and LaunchLab team, there's a giant, Johnathan-sized hole in everyone's hearts.
John – we'll miss you, but you're going to change the world!
Nolene has spent the last 10 years setting up tissue culture laboratories across the continent – everything from the physical design and space to employment, production and management. Which is exactly why she's going to fit into her new role as a Technology Transfer Officer (TTO) in Innovus like a laminar flow transfer hood into a positive-pressure ventilation unit. I.e. very well.
Having worked with small ventures (like nurseries) and large pharma alike, and having dealt with entrepreneurs and investors, and having a really solid understanding of technology and science, she has all the experienced required to operate in both the idea and the execution space. In fact, we'd go so far as to say she's perfect.
Nolene's desire to help people realise their dreams and discover themselves was what brought her to us initially. "Every day there's something new, " she says, "A new story. A new idea. It's fascinating!"
As a TTO, Nolene's job is to take ideas right through to completion, where they are either licensed or turned into spin out companies, as well as interfacing between researchers and commercial interests. Already she's involved in the TIA Seed Fund and an up-and-coming company, SharkSafe Barriers. So much for her 'finding her feet'.
Welcome to the team, Nolene! We look forward to seeing the impact you're going to be making, through the companies and investors you'll be working with.
Eugene Smit, founder and CEO of Stellenbosch Nanofiber Company (SNC), was beaming when I had the pleasure of interviewing him. This is because the news that they are receiving their ISO 13485 and ISO 9001 certification for their nanofiber production laboratories coincides neatly with their fifth anniversary as a company on 1st of November 2016. This is a rare milestone for South African start-up companies, and it looks like SNC will only grow as they offer more and more. Let us look at their story and maybe glean some of the key factors that lead to their success.
Eugene openly says that SNC is his fifth start-up, and he says he learnt so much from those that just didn't make it. It was while he was frustrated with one of his previous ventures that he decided to go back and do his PhD, and he wanted the project to centre on translational research with real-world applications. In 2003 he enrolled in the department of Chemistry and Polymer Science at Stellenbosch University where his project focused the production methods of nanofibres. His PhD work paid off when in 2006 he developed a novel method for production of nanofiber yarns. Innovus, the university industry interaction and innovation company of Stellenbosch University, helped him patent this process. Later, additional production methods were developed, resulting in patents for two processes that provide a platform for high throughput production of nanofibers.
The SNC BEST™ platform consists of a (really cool) ball electrospinning technology, which increases the yield of nanofiber production exponentially compared to the traditional needle spinning method. This means the production is much quicker and more cost effective. Have a look at their YouTube video explaining this patented tech here: https://youtu.be/OSz9noKRwLo. At this stage, proof of concept was quite solid, but SNC had to make the difficult decision of whether they wanted to sell machines based on the platform (a once off sale) or whether to focus on providing an ongoing service by developing and producing nanofiber-based products for clients. In 2011, armed with an extensive business plan, they managed to secure investment from PSG Private Equity, to allow scale-up to a commercial level. During this time, SNC was comprised of Eugene and two scientists Hayden Kriel and Donna van Staden. Over the past 5 years they have successfully scaled up the technology, gradually grown the team, and since early 2014 focusing their commercial attentions more specifically on one of the many nanofiber market segments, the medical device and regenerative medicine market. They have had success with producing products like wound dressings for burn wounds, tissue scaffolds for retinal pigment epithelium, and injectable drug delivery vehicles for proprietary peptides. These impressive medical applications are what prompted the need for the ISO certification since nanofiber materials need to be produced under a strict quality management system in order to be suitable for these applications.
Now it is understandable why Eugene is so proud of reaching this milestone. Not to mention that the SNC team has now grown to 16 with a plan to push that to 20 in the near future. SNC feel really passionately about the R&D process for its clients. It has become a lovely full circle of innovators helping clients to be innovative, and the services to their clients are very cost-effective as they do not bear the set-up and manufacturing costs. This ethos is perfectly summarised in SNC's motto: "We turn your nanofiber concepts into commercial reality"
We are wishing Stellenbosch Nanofiber Company a very happy 5th Anniversary, and wishing them, even more, success. There are still so many applications for them to explore.
There comes a time in every inventor's life when his or her idea needs impetus to be taken to fruition. Usually this is in the fairly early stages of technology development, and it's mostly funding that's the key to success. Essentially, in order to 'levelling up' an idea and realising its potential requires financial backing.
This is exactly why the Technology Innovation Agency (TIA) of the Department of Science and Technology has a Seed Fund – to ensure that ideas and innovations make it out of the laboratory (or workshop) and into the market place. Its core objective is to support both the development and commercialisation of technology as services and products by allowing additional technology development, prototyping, incubation proof of concept, field studies, business plan development, production and a host of other elements that fledgling business require.
The TIA Seed Fund offers support of between R90k and R500k to intrepid entrepreneurs (from both higher education institutes and small and medium enterprises) who meet a few, basic criteria:
You may be asking then the best time to apply for funding of your own technology concept would be. Prof Piet Steyn answers rather succinctly, "As soon as possible."
The results of TIA's funding support have thus far been auspicious:
Custos, a digital media security company that uses Bitcoin technology to fight piracy, was enabled by TIA funding. Initially conceived by Gert-Jan van Rooyen, a Professor in Electric Engineering, Dr Herman Engelbrecht and a student, Frederick Lutz, Custos is fast becoming a successful stand-alone business and has recently received an additional R6m in investment from TIA of the Department of Science and Technology. (They're hiring, by the way.)
Solar Turtle is another well-rounded initiative, that attaches theft-proof solar panels to shipping containers (the 'PowerTurtle'), making energy available to anyone (like schools and clinics), which is especially significant in rural areas. In fact, they've recently made the final round of judging in the prestigious Siemens Empowering People Awards.
SharkSafe is, as the name suggests, makes the water safe – both from sharks, and for sharks - by emitting a magnetic barrier which doesn't seem to bother any other sea-life. The eventual aim of SharkSafe – less carcasses in those abominable 'safety nets', and a safer swim for all.
These ideas (and these are but a few of the incredible things that are changing the world right now) would only have been possible with the assistance of funding. (If you'd like to see the rest, I recommend downloading the most recent PDF here). If you meet the above criteria, and have a product or idea you know will change tomorrow for the better, then TIA Seed Fund is definitely the way to get it done.
Enquiries can be directed to:
Nothing alive today survives for long in a vacuum, and this is equally true of ideas. Often, we get so caught up in our own way of thinking and doing that we miss the bigger picture completely.' My way is the right way' is an anachronism. Variety is the spice of both life, and progress.
As such, Innovus holds a quarterly researcher events, where Stellenbosch University senior researchers – Doctors, Professors and Deans - from all different departments and disciplines get together to have a snack, clink a drink and, most importantly, share ideas, processes and methodologies with each other.
The result is a stronger, more agile University, as well as some new friendships. Without these types of events many would never have the opportunity to meet at all.
The last event of this kind was help in July, and the responses were incredibly positive. Not only were ideas shared, but attendees were exposed to the inner workings of Innovus' people, value and methodology. The next one will be happening in the next few weeks so, if you are a senior researcher and feel you could do with a little 'outside thinking', make sure you book your seat with Charlotte Mashaba (firstname.lastname@example.org). The worst that could happen is you make a new friend over a few snacks, but the benefits could change the way you work forever.
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