Anita Nel Leading the INNOVUS and SUNCOM Team

Anita Nel Leading the INNOVUS and SUNCOM Team

Universities of the future will be entrepreneurial

Universities that are not embracing innovation and entrepreneurship are being left behind.

It is the belief of Anita Nel, Chief Director of Innovus, Stellenbosch University's platform for the fifth income stream generated through the commercialisation of the institution's assets.

There is an exciting buzz when you visit the offices of Innovus, and one cannot help to think that Anita's energy and passion for her job have something to do with it. Since joining this innovation hub on SU's campus in 2006, she spearheaded the establishment of the Nedbank Stellenbosch University LaunchLab, which has proven to be a game-changer – a vehicle that has helped establish the University as an internationally acclaimed entrepreneurial university.

"Apart from being an incubator for start-ups, the LaunchLab is also a space where industry and academia, students and their professors, can collaborate and learn in an innovative, inspiring and clever environment."

"It is so exciting to help start a new company," says Anita who has been instrumental in the establishment of 18 start-ups at Innovus since she took over the reins. Two of the five new companies incorporated in 2018 – CubeSpace and GeoSmart – declared dividends this year and there are more to follow suit.

Being instrumental in the establishment of the University Technology Fund (UTF), Anita foresees even more spinouts to follow. Anita initiated the concept model for this fund and worked with the SA SME Fund to establish the UTF fund in its endeavour to partnering with South African universities for commercialising technologies and business ideas arising across South African campuses. "This fund will provide crucial pre-seed and seed capital to our entrepreneurs to help them commercialise technologies and grow their businesses."

Employing 300 people

"2019 has been another great year for the Innovus group of companies  We are growing steadily and are currently employing more than 300 people," says Anita. Innovus also houses SUNCOM, SU's commercialisation arm for mostly non-intellectual property (IP)-related outputs.

She sees her role as that of an enabler. "I cannot just start something. I have to see it through. It is hard to hand over something – it is like your baby, you want to hold on to it as long as possible."

"My portfolio is so diverse. We look after a Botanical Garden and simultaneously incubate a range of start-ups. Our companies build satellite components, produce food from insects, manufacture nanofiber-based cosmetic products, create shark barriers and our researchers even developed a special herbal tea that can prevent cancer and sensors that can detect cancer very early on."

She dreams that SU will become the foremost entrepreneurial University in the world. "This dream is not limited to the borders of the University. We are working hard towards establishing a knowledge region. With the UTF fund established and the LaunchLab to kickstart and incubate great ideas, this dream will soon be a reality."

"Also, I find myself within a university community of amazing people to help Innovus make this happen. The quality of people on this campus is phenomenal – together we are still going to do unbelievable things," says Anita.

"People are my biggest inspiration: those who succeed against all the odds. I love it when people do something out of the ordinary."

For young students, Anita has a special message: "When I studied, the job I do now, did not even exist. So too will you probably study for something that still has to be created. It doesn't matter: any degree will teach you fundamental skills that you will be able to use in your future. My degree taught me how to address challenges and solve problems."