Good things happen when the right people meet at the right times.
In this case, it was two Stellenbosch University Professors, Prof Leon Dicks (microbiology) and Prof Willem Perold (electrical engineering) who had a coffee, and realised that their individual expertise had a relevant cross-over point – specifically in the detection of tuberculosis in patients. The current solutions were either unpleasant (for instance, requiring the patient to swallow an ampoule of antibodies), time-consuming (taking weeks between testing and diagnoses), or both.
The question was asked, "Can we not create something more effective?"
And that answer was rapidly forthcoming.
Using millions of gold plated ZnO nanowires the duo, along with a team of PhD students, developed a piezoelectric nanogenerator, which they combined with an antibody-treated scaffold. This scaffold then attracts the bacteria, if they're present, deforming the nanowires and generating a measurable, piezoelectric charge, and essentially detecting the presence of the TB bacteria – in minutes.
But the device isn't just able to detect TB – it's able to detect any kind of bacteria. This means that by simply switching out the scaffold with one treated with a different antibody, the device becomes multipurpose – catching e.coli, streptococcal or even gonorrheal infections rapidly. And the implications are significant; especially in situations where early bacterial detection saves lives, like in post-operative hospital patients. Requiring no separate power source, the sensors can be implanted directly inside the human body, allowing for fast ad-hoc detection of the hospital's own grim reaper, staphylococcus aureus. This makes anything from knee surgery to open heart surgery far less risky, as time-to-detection of staph infections is greatly reduced. Another benefit of self-powering is the ability to send information to almost any device, making the reading and monitoring of information easy and mobile; this technology is currently under development.
To reduce the time and cost of growing nanofibres, another Innovus spin-off company, SNC Nanofibres, were brought into the mix. The company developed the technology that spins out reams of nanofibre material measured in kilograms/hour, rather than the traditional grams/hour, enhancing production and decreasing costs.
This solution, incidentally, also led to the next innovation – a resistive sensor that could detect more than the presence of bacteria, it could detect the concentration present in the sample, as well.
While potentially more accurate when it comes to concentration, resistive nanofibre testing can be hard to quantify, due primarily to a lack of baseline, and too subtle a difference between that baseline and the new reading: knowing where zero is, and seeing the change in resistance.
So, in April 2015, 4th year Stellenbosch students were tasked to look at new resistive sensing techniques. Their approach was rather unique: using the same nanofibre mesh produced large scale by SNC Nanofibres, and treating the mesh to make it resistive, they was able to establish a baseline. On top of that they built a protein scaffold, much like the piezoelectric nanosensors, imbued with antibodies, which showed significant changes in current, and allowed for far more accurate readings.
The device, as it exists now, also has a replaceable scaffold, allowing the pathologist to test for the presence and concentration of different bacterial agents, using the same device. One drop of blood or sputum and 15 minutes is all it takes for detection to happen, reducing the time of the more standard, lab test result method, to a fraction.
This technology is particularly relevant for Africa, where funding and access are both major hurdles. With these two nanosensors, we have the capability to diagnose any form of bacteria in rural areas very cheaply, and very quickly.
Where to next? The team are busy looking at a similar approach but using it for viruses. The application here should be self-evident – HIV/Aids. Within a few months, they should be able to test an entire village in an afternoon, as well as monitor the viral loads of existing HIV+ patients on an on-going basis, even ensuring ARVs are being taken correctly.
The future may be big, but the future of bacterial detection is tiny. Two different nanosensors, one of which is self-powered and can be implanted, and another which can measure presence as well as bacterial load will go a long way to keeping South Africa safer.
The world has changed, and will keep changing – this is nothing new. What is new is the exponential rate at which innovation is appearing. We're in an innovation age, where technology and communities are amplifying the output of some of the smartest people – and it's hard to keep up. Which is awesome. However, tertiary institutions, who have some of the most well-educated, well-resourced and cutting edge people in the world in one room together, are lagging behind. These institutions should be putting out more inventive creations and creating more value than any other industry.
In fact, leading international universities are not only characterised by the amount of world-class researchers they employ or by the number of graduates they produce, but also by the contribution they make to society and the broader economic environment – their ability to provide solutions for real-world problems, whist still reaping the associated financial benefits.
So, why aren't they? There are three main problems. The first is fragmentation, meaning that people work independently, and that there's no scale of investment for any single university to commercialise the things they create. The second is funding, meaning that the system can't support itself. What does all this mean? It means that certain great ideas never see the light of day, never having a chance to change the world, and that we're always going to be running slower than the rest. But, there's actually a larger problem, and that's the way the funding system works – it's parasitic. The universities create the idea, develop it and make it fit-for-purpose. But, because the amount of available investment is limited by the universities' own funding, only some ideas come to fruition, before they're licenced out of the system – to corporates and manufacturers. This is the opposite of sustainability.
Furthermore, a lack of adequate funding causes the behaviour of TTOs (Technology Transfer Offices, such as Innovus) to become skewed away from optimal: they tend to start companies too early and then seek funding for them from sources with a mismatched risk profile (i.e. before they have been sufficiently developed and, thus, de-risked). As a result, investors are either unwilling to invest or they compensate for the high risk by taking disproportionally large equity portions, which in turn disincentivises the entrepreneurs themselves… This is known as the 'funding gap'.
There are many critical areas that early-stage ventures need to consider in order to move from 'smart idea' to 'sustainable, successful business'; areas like prototype development, business planning and modelling, legal services, regulatory compliance and intellectual property management. The funding gap allows many early stage projects to fall through the cracks.
Closing this gap means there's a massive opportunity – for everyone from innovators and universities, to venture capitalists (VCs) and other investors – to win together.
The UTF (University Technology Fund) is the answer, and allows forward thinking investors in partnerships with leading South African universities to fund, consolidate and benefit from a strong pipeline of innovation, creating the next logical phase for universities: Knowledge Regions. Together. And they act like a flywheel for innovation.
A Knowledge Region is a node where the boundaries between the university and broader society are increasingly blurred, especially in relation to the creation of specific technology industries. It's an entrepreneurial ecosystem.
Universities in Leuven, Oxford, Cambridge, Boston and Finland have already created their own Knowledge Regions, and are reaping the rewards.
To kick-start a Knowledge Region, first you need a critical mass of spin-out companies – entrepreneurial start-up entities, incubated in the universities, but who are becoming self-sufficient. This activity (and the innovations emanating from it) attracts outside entrepreneurs, VCs and angel investors who, in turn, bring business incubators and service providers, strengthening the core. Multinational companies join the party last, to gain access to the emerging innovations and eventually they invest research funding in the university and creating a channel from which the innovations, start-ups and businesses can be properly commercialised.
The UTF will catalyse this entire system. Here funds are pooled and allocated to the right ventures at the right time. The Technology Innovation Agency (TIA) Seed Fund for universities is probably the best initiative in technology transfer in South Africa to date, and some universities have very small seed funds in place. But they're not enough, and with the introduction of the proposed UTF, a major breakthrough will be achieved to kick-start an 'innovation spring' in our nation.
Leading South African universities are ready to take the next step in the evolution of tertiary learning institutions, and to become centres for local knowledge regions, but in order to establish these regions, the universities require the support of a dedicated fund – a UTF - to take their early-stage technologies to commercialisation.
A UTF makes sense for investors, too. The fund can allocate a limited percentage of its assets to early-stage and seed funding administered by the TTO, to ensure that a pipeline of investment-ready technologies is made available for more traditional, VC-style investment and, in return, the fund will secure preferential rights to that pipeline, plus it will share in the ownership rights negotiated by the TTO in return for the early or seed-stage funding that it provided. Investors in the UTF thus get a seat of the table of the combined pipeline of technologies flowing from local universities.
A South African UTF will initially combine the strengths of a number of participating universities to raise a single umbrella fund-of-funds that will feed into independent university funds – one institutional fund for each participating university and a multi-institutional fund for those universities who do not yet qualify for an own institutional fund. In this manner, the UTF will provide the platform for investors to invest in the technology output of all South African and eventually also a number of African universities.
The UTF may makes financial sense, but it is absolutely essential to enable South African universities to compete at rapidly advancing international standards and become the engine rooms of innovation.
Interested investors can contact Anita Nel, CEO of Innovus and Senior Director: Innovation and Business Development at Stellenbosch University on email address firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss this proposed initiative.
Like the Internet, television and decent restaurants, clean drinking water is something we take for granted. Our municipalities take care of that for us, which means that crisp, clean, healthy water is but a twist of the wrist away. For the rest of the country clean water solutions are desperately needed, especially in less developed, rural areas, where the answer needs to be as simple, and as uncomplicated, and therefore as sustainable as possible.
Oh, there are, indeed, existing solutions. POU (Point Of Use) water systems come in all shapes and sizes, but most devices use one (or a combination) of chemical or solar disinfectants, filtration using sand filters or ceramic filters, many of which require power. This level of complexity makes them neither sustainable, nor particularly suitable for the rural populace, as they often lead to the build-up of disinfectant by-product, they have low flow rates or the water requires boiling which requires a lot more energy and time than is often available.
Under the deft hands of primary inventor, Prof Lingam Pillay from the Department of Process Engineering and Innovus Commercialisation Projects Coordinator, Laurie Barwell, a new, simpler and far more effective solution has been crafted: Vulamanz.
The core of the technology is the South-African developed woven-fabric microfiltration membranes (WF-MF) that are cost effective, extremely robust, and use gravitational force instead of external energy sources for filtration. This membrane can provide water as needed, with its 25 L/hour flow rate, and a bottle-brush is all that's needed for its occasional cleaning.
Not only will the Vulamanz system remove sediment, particles and plant matter from drinking water, but it will even, as was recently proved by the CSIR's analytical water quality laboratory, filter out the E. coli bacteria, an indicator of polluted water which hospitalises thousands of children every year. Another thing that the CSIR reported was that water, after being run through the Vulamanz system, was identical in quality to what you and I are used to in our metropolitan, 'developed' homes. The system, in a nutshell, passed its 'fit-for-purpose' water quality test with flying colours.
In a story told by Laurie, this concept was de-intellectualised for the team when they visited one of the villages that had been used to test the legitimacy of Vulamanz. "We were greeted with cheers!" he says. Apparently, the most vulnerable inhabitants, those under one year of age, hadn't had to go near the local clinic, as they did every month, due to the new quality of their drinking water. No more diarrhoea. No more dehydration. "They were all now perfectly healthy," he grins.
It's not only rural homes that will benefit from what Vulamanz has created, but hospitals, clinics and schools, too. Disaster management will be significantly enhanced, as piping in treated water is no longer a necessity, nor are complicated cleaning or chemical considerations. The next phase will see an additional 1000 devices being installed in homes across the country as the team, assisted by the Durban University of Technology for research and interviewing purposes, constantly strives to refine the prototype, ensuring that it's robust and embraced by the communities. This is but the first step to giving at-risk communities throughout the world back one of their 'basic human rights' – clean, healthy water.
Unfortunately in this age of speed and convenience, the tastiness of food products is often inversely proportionate to their healthiness… This is not only a problem for those in lower-income brackets, where simply eating is often seen as enough, no matter what's actually being consumed – but also in children.
Much of the food enjoyed by younger members of society are often not particularly nutritious, delivering more in sugar and sodium, colorants and flavourants than they do in actual, life sustaining, vitamins and minerals. The issue is compounded during the formative, developmental stage of their lives – they become what they eat. Can 'enjoyed by a 5-year old' also mean 'wholesome?
Each year Stellenbosch University's final year students are required to complete research projects as part of their curriculum, for thich the most innovative is awarded a well-deserved prize. In previous years, we've come to expect a lot from the students, and it's because of ideas like S'cool Beans that we're able to remain so.
The team behind S'cool Beans have created a sandwich spread that is low in sugar, low in sodium, as well as low in cost; all while remaining incredibly high on the delicious scale. Using root vegetables and legumes, favoured with coco, they have developed a healthy, 'yummy' spread, and it's chocolate and hazelnut flavoured. I think we could all do with a little bit more of that…
"It's marvellous!" - Dr Willem Perold (Department of electrical Engineering)
Thanks to a generous sponsorship of the ingredients themselves, the team are in a position to create samples and start testing and marketing the product. Funding and support provided by TIA and Innovus will make sure that model and licensing are sound, and that entire business is self-sustaining. In the meantime, the students are looking at additional ways to further reduce both the salt and the sugar content of the product.
The rollout of S'Cool Beans could mean much for feeding schemes and low-income families, where nutritive value is at a premium, but often poorly delivered. Because of the low cost, it's a welcome addition to any shopping basket as an alternative to less salutary choices (which is most of them) and because of a clever flavour profile, we don't expect to see any kinds complaining.
The students behind the development of S'Cool Beans have entered their innovation into the annual IUFoST (International Union of Food Sciences and Technology) competition, an international endeavour developed to help end world hunger. If selected as finalists, they'll be jetting off to Ireland to pitch their idea, which means it may be more than just South Africa's kids they are able to feed.
When you think of sport and Stellenbosch University, you'd be forgiven for thinking mainly of cricket and rugby. For years these two have been the synonymic sports of Maties, but there's a firm third that's soon to be added, if Head Coach, Roscoe Krieling and, in fact, the University itself, has anything to say about it.
For many South Africa universities, Stellies included, sports are a way to attract the right kind of talent. The better the sports programme, the more likely you are to get the attention the next multi-talented biochemist or researcher, who also has a strong drive to compete, because it's one of the key criteria for many a student looking for just the right place to hang their mortarboards next to their sweaty underthings.
They've set their sights on proving their commitment to the country: The 2017 Varsity Cup Qualifiers.
"Stellenbosch University has some of the best soccer facilities in the country," says Roscoe. If fact, you need look no farther than the world-class premises, Coetzenburg, and the high-performance gym, SUSPI, that Stellies students enjoy exclusive access to.
To bolster their talent, the University has opened it's doors to football bursary students for the first time, and has already selected 6 full bursaries and 4 half bursaries.
But finding the best players is only half the story. Roscoe, assisted by Ashley Kotzen of ForwardZone (South Africa's premier football management company), has spent the last few months uniting the team into a unit, always one of the most challenging aspects of recruitment in sports. The fruits are starting to show, when Maties smashed Tableview FC 3-1. They are further consolidating the skills of the players by cracking the more structured, LFA Cape Town/Tygerberg League, where they can get "some solid game time."
And they're not playing alone (so to speak). Innovus, the University's innovation agency, is supporting the charge with the necessary investment, as well as by creating an elite football environment. "Our aim is to build the SU Football Programme into the leading football development programme in South Africa. I am confident that we are more than capable in this regard," says Anita Nel, Innovus CEO.
Roscoe believes this is the first year the team will qualify for the Varsity Cup and, judging by the effort, time and thought that's going into the new football programme, we're likely to believe him.
Everything is getting 'appified' these days, and talent acquisition is not being left out in the cold. The team behind Leap.ly are not only the story of a first-rate idea brought to life, but they're also a success story in the making for the university's own business incubator, The Stellenbosch University Nedbank LaunchLab.
Many of the ideas incubated in the LaunchLab were first dreamt of in the minds of SU students and faculty. This time, Leap.ly came to us with their idea through our pitching competition, which they won. They are now building their business between the supportive walls of the LaunchLab.
Not just 'another app idea company', Leap.ly is plugging a gaping hole in the world of human resources and, if you want proof of just how desperately their idea was needed: Leap.ly is already being used effectively in 30 of South Africa's Top 40 businesses, like Pick n Pay, Discovery and MTN. And that's no small feat…
Taking a page from the book of other successful start-ups like Tinder's step-child, Matchmaker, and Tendr (an app that puts investors next to the best start-ups), Leap.ly is an online portal that allows graduates to build their online profile – skills, strengths, interest etcetera - and then matches them directly with the exclusive corporate placement opportunities they qualify for. They can then apply for any available programme from any device - simply with the click of a button. This means no more time-consuming web-searches or tedious and out-dated application processes. If you are a graduate, your days of putting your CV into a new email window and hitting the 'Send to all' button (with crossed fingers) are over, as opportunities now find the applicants. Smart, simple, and beautifully designed.
Not only is this a huge boon for graduates and students, but it's a godsend for businesses who spend a fortune every year searching, vetting and interviewing hundreds of potential graduates. Through Leap.ly's portal they can simply list their criteria, and Leap.ly will do the rest, filtering out irrelevant candidates. For one particular large international company they managed to reduce the amount of potential applicants from 5000 to less than an eighth of that, saving a massive amount of valuable time and allowing them to spend it on other important endeavours.
Having their base of operations within the LaunchLab, the team's rather energetic culture and passion quickly attracted the attention of microeconomist, Stellenbosch honorary professor and Oxford PhD, Prof Neil Rankin. And big things are on the horizon. Prof Rankin, as Leap.ly's Chief Data Scientist, is now applying his specific skill-set to help the Leap.ly team plan for the future - their long-game: creating an information company that offers more than just an ingenious matching service, but a data-collecting, real-time, predictive-trends business that will offer market-related guidance to everyone from government and multinationals to high-school students, and become the leaders of the career market in South Africa.
This success story in the making is rooted in a combination of great ideas, great people, a beautiful product and the right supplementary skills at the right time, in the most suitable environment. In the words of Johnathan Smit, Innovus' Innovation Officer, "Our view is that every resident company in the LaunchLab needs a professor!" and you can easily see exactly how valuable this thinking can be to early-stage tech companies. Currently the company is growing its graduate membership by 28% week-on-week (about 100 student every, single day) and expects to hit the 30, 000 mark in just a few months. While LaunchLab and Prof Rankin are helping to nurture the seed, the whole country will soon be Leap.ly's data garden. And we can't wait.
Worldwide, there are roughly 300 million people trying to start in excess of 150 million new businesses. 2 out of 3 will fail before even launching, and 120 000 will put 'Closed' on their virtual windows every day (Global Entrepreneurship Center).
This proves that there is so much more to a successful, sustainable business than simply a 'good idea'. Execution (copyright, patents and a solid business case) trumps passion. That said, it's where the two meet that magic really happens.
Sporatech, is such an example of a worthwhile idea being currently brought into the light by steadfast execution, with the assistance of Innovus. Developed as the commercial arm of Stellenbosch University's Microbiology Laboratory, the company is taking air quality testing to the next level.
Allergic Rhinitis, the most common condition for which medical assistance is sought, affects more then 400 million people, is caused by simple airborne allergens, like pollen and spores. But there are more urgent threats to our health, like the Aspergillus fungus, the spores of which kill thousands every year (CDC). Simply annoying or potentially fatal, the majority of the things we breathe daily are invisible.
Sporatec is currently providing for malls, hospitals, food-preparation spaces and even the home that will detect and classify exactly what is floating through your alveoli, as well as the identification and count of mold spores. Supplementary to this, the service is enhanced with mold management recommendations, equipment sales (for things like dehumidifiers) and an affiliate network of damp-repair and mold-cleaning professionals.
The company was co-founded by Professor Karin Jacobs, a microbiologist with over 20 years' experience, and her student, JJ Kriel (BSc), who handles the both the business and sampling aspects of Sporatech. To set them up for success JJ attended the Technology Innovation Agency's technology commercialisation course, as well as the LaunchLab Knowledge Acceleration Programme (a 10 week initiative for small-businesses that equips them with the knowledge they need to make their idea into a viable plan), both of which are hosted by Innovus. Sporatech now operate from the LaunchLab itself, making maximum use of the flexible working spaces, meeting rooms, and abundant intellectual capital of the likeminded individuals residing in the same space.
In addition to the above, Innovus is also helping Sporatech with the other essential aspects of business development like corporate identity development, value proposition refinement, company incorporation, creating the business plan and securing their first clients which, while often overlooked, are critical to longevity. This stable foundation allows for an easier road ahead, as Prof. Jacobs grows the business as well as the staff compliment from the excellent pool of student resources available to her.
Sporatech was grounded in the experience and knowledge of Prof Jacobs and the students in her lab but, to get proverbial, 'It takes a village to raise a child'. It's a combination of all of the above ingredients – credible reputation, a great idea, and a connected team, enhanced with knowhow, mentoring, support and solid development - that will ensure that the Sporatech enterprise develops far past mere survival and becomes a viable, commercial reality.
Tesla, Uber, MyCity, Segway; the way we travel is changing. And next up to the plate is Mellowcabs, who are making 'convenient travel' rhyme with 'environmentally friendly' with their signature, yellow, fully-electric cabs.
Mellowcabs started when Neil du Preez, having already successfully founded Riksha (a trailer that attaches to any bike, allowing parents to bring their toddlers along on rides), realised that the majority (80%) of our urban taxi travels are less than 5km, and that traditional, large, petrol-consuming vehicles were not the most efficient way for us to do so.
In Neil's own words, "I see these units (the freshly styled small electric cabs) primarily doing service short distances in city or town centres. The size and scale is therefore appropriate for us in an urban setting."
Mellowcabs has already won a number of awards: Winner of the International Smart Cities category of the Challenge Cup, supported by the US Chamber of Commerce (Washington DC), Winner 2013 Gauteng Innovation Competition, Winner of the u-Start Africa Competition and Proud Recipient of green flag for environmental excellence from Western Cape Premier, Helen Zille.
Innovus first ran across Mellowcabs at an innovation competition and this is where Anita Nel (Innovus CEO) met Neil, the idea-man behind the company.
At the time, Mellowcabs were using the motor from a golf-cart, but were seeking a bespoke battery management system, as well as a more powerful, efficient motor. Innovus, introduced them to Dr Peter Jan Randewijk in the electrical engineering department at Stellenbosch University, who was already in the process of developing a carbon-fibre motor. Dr Randewijk and a group of his master students were able to assist with the development of a new battery management system that would allow the yellow cabs to use state-of-the-art LiFeSO4 batteries, dramatically decreasing their weight and, inversely, increase their range.
Innovus also assisted the team to successfully apply for funding with the T.I.A. (Technology Innovation Agency) uYilo e-mobility programme.
Not only do Mellowcabs now run on a carbon-fibre motor and a completely overhauled electrical system, but they also didn't skimp on the features. Mellowcabs arrive standard with safety belts, regenerative braking, proximity sensors, roll cages, GPS tracking, illuminated body panel technology and embedded LED lights in the shells that light up the entire cab. There's even an iPad for passengers to entertain themselves with. That's a lot of technology to fit into such a compact vehicle.
The cabs are efficient to run, and require less maintenance. Due to their size, they will reduce vehicular traffic and also bolster the taxi Industry in South Africa, creating new jobs for drivers (anyone with a motorcycle license), who Mellowcabs will train. Even hailing one is convenient - through their mobile app, call-centre or website.
In additional to its function as a mode of transport, the slick, sexy frame of the cabs allow for mobile advertising opportunities, in which many companies have already expressed significant interest. The shell itself is even adaptive, meaning that it may be more than a quick, safe and cheap ride home – it could bring you your weekly groceries.
The next few weeks will see Mellowcabs moving into the LaunchLab business incubator (an Innovus initiative), forming part of the entrepreneurial community developing around the university and moving closer to the SU engineering faculty. This will help to set up Neil and Mellowcabs not just for the rest of South Africa (Mellowcabs will initially run in Stellenbosch) but for a rapid global expansion.
It would seem that the future of last-mile, green transport, is yellow.
Cape Town – Researchers in Stellenbosch have developed avionics for the two DebrisSats which will remove space junk in orbit around the Earth.
But a local satellite project - developed by CubeSpace, one of Stellenbosch University's Innovus spin-out companies - plans to help alleviate the situation.
The experimental mission will use 'CubeSats' and work like a net to capture and de-orbit the space junk. CubeSats are small satellites locally developed with support from the university to explore commercial opportunities in space exploration.
"The project started end of 2013. Our part took about 12 months to develop and to build the engineering and flight model avionics for the two DebrisSAT satellites," Professor Herman Steyn, head of Satellite Engineering Group in the department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering, told Fin24.
"The launch date is not finalised yet, but the aim is to launch from the International Space Station by middle 2017," said Steyn.
"The launch of ZA-AeroSat and the other CubeSats of the QB50 mission will also be from the International Space Station," Steyn said.
Through the Innovus venture, Stellenbosch University has employed 226 people in a group of companies with a combined turnover of R205m.
US space agency Nasa says that more than 500 000 pieces of space junk are being monitored as they orbit the Earth. More than 20 000 pieces are bigger than a cricket ball and represent a danger to space craft.
In 2009, defunct Russian satellite crashed into a US Iridium commercial satellite, resulting in an increase in space debris which travels at more than 27 000km/h (or 7.5km/s, about the speed of meteors).
WATCH how the CubeSAT will work in this online video:
The Association of University Technology Managers (AUTM) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to bringing research to life by supporting and enhancing the global academic technology transfer profession through education, professional development, partnering and advocacy. AUTM boasts more than 3,200 members, representing managers of intellectual property from more than 300 universities, research institutions and teaching hospitals around the world as well as numerous businesses and government organizations. We're talking the red-carpet event of the year for technology transfer professionals.
Every year AUTM hosts members from across the world as they come together to network, learn and discuss the most relevant trends in the industry, like tactics for license negotiation, start-up investment journeys and, most importantly, the sharing of best practice.
This year, in San Diego, California, Innovus' technology transfer officer William Cloete, was fortunate enough to be granted one of AUTM's Scholarship for New Technology Transfer Professionals from Developing Economies, five of which are granted annually to those in the early stages of their careers.
William is not the first Innovus team-member to receive this honour. Since its establishment ten years ago, AUTM's scholarship has been granted to four of Innovus' tech transfer professionals (Saberi Marais, 2007; Anita Nel, 2008; Doris Peters,2010; J.D. Labuschagne 2013). So what did 2016's AUTM convention have to offer?
Unlike traditional conferences, AUTM is built around networking, focussing more on panel discussions than the usual, more passive TED-style presentations, as well as networking events, forums and blogs which continue the interaction long after the venue doors have closed for the evening and the lights have gone out. This high degree of interaction enhances the applicability of the content for industry professionals, as they are able to effectively learn from each other's experiences, strengthening the overall tech transfer industry. "It is great exposure and we always get those who attended the conference back with a broader perspective and extreme motivation," says William. "Everyone is so welcoming, you're able to get face time with anybody of you choose to."
New, expansive networks are built quickly, as members introduce each other to their associates, which allows for an even faster sharing of ideas and best practice. These relationships extended far past the event itself and, as William succinctly puts it, "That's the number one reason people return to AUTM – to maintain connections and create new ones."
Another key out-take for William was the need to effectively manage processes based on the size of your institution and the legislation of the particular country from which your technology transfer office operates. This makes being part of a tech transfer community so important, because without a large (and extended) network of tech transfer professionals these offices have little draw on in terms of support. As William puts it, "You can seemingly always rely on the AUTM network to help solve any issue."
One of the big lessons William returned with is that Innovus, as a leading South African (developing markets) tech transfer office is not far behind the global standard. "The challenges we face, the way we juggle relationships between stakeholders and the way we implement processes are all shared experiences," he explains. "Hearing the lessons and comparing how they [international universities] do short and long term strategic planning, as an example, I could tell that Innovus is definitely not lagging behind."
Any lasting lessons? "Tech-transfer as a profession is made up of an interesting group of people with a diverse combination of hard and soft skills, with varying work backgrounds," he says. "They end up in tech-transfer because of their specific interests or an inclination to apply themselves in the almost unscripted and challenging environment of tech transfer. Technology transfer is a fast growing profession and, with one more year of tech transfer experience, William can't wait to return to an AUTM annual meeting to share in the exchange of experiences and best practices once more.
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