In the technology commercialisation field we often say that it is far more important to have a really solid team than a revolutionary product or service. Frequently even a game changing technology will not make it to market, if the team simply does not come together in the right way. An excellent example of a company that demonstrates the power of team coherence is GeoSUN Africa. Their origin was in the Engineering Faculty of Stellenbosch University, where in 2006 the Centre for Renewable and Sustainable Energy Studies (CRSES) started offering services for solar mapping and measuring sun hours in specific regions across South Africa. They soon discovered this was a niche market that was needed in order to grow the burgeoning green energy ambitions in South Africa. At CRSES they realised that this service had real potential to become a spin-off company. Innovus, the university industry interaction and innovation company, came on board to assist this transition and GeoSUN Africa was officially launched in 2012 as a two-man team which currently stands at 9.
Most interestingly the GeoSUN team felt that it was through forging mutually beneficial partnerships that their company really took off. For instance by working with Solargis (formerly named GeoModel Solar), a Slovak company that uses satellite images to calculate solar energy data. While GeoSUN used their own ground based technology to measure 12 months worth of solar time, the satellite data consisting of years worth of solar energy data, could be combined with the site specific data. This combination therefore produces a reliable and statically robust measure of just how much sun a geographical location receives. This is an important factor for investors and solar farm construction companies to make a decision on locations that will provide enough solar energy yields. Especially when the construction costs of such plants are vast, a one-year period of solar time measure on its own can be misleading and could lead to serious losses if solar hours cannot meet the desired quota. Similarly the satellite data on its own is not the same as ground measures due to the complex and dynamic interference of cloud cover and weather conditions.
GeoSUN has a close working relationship with Campbell Scientific Africa for the supply and installation of Scada weather stations at utility scale solar plants. When GeoSUN branched out into calibration services of the measuring equipment at solar plants, they formed a working partnership with Hukseflux, a manufacturer of high-end solar measurement equipment based in Delft, the Netherlands. This relationship has meant that GeoSUN could develop and launch a mobile calibration laboratory, which travels to all the solar plant locations. The calibration, and sometimes minor on-site repairs of their measurement equipment, ensures continued accurate data collection and thus accurate solar plant performance guarantees.
GeoSUN also offers thermographic inspection of photovoltaic (PV) panels by deploying drones. This is done in close collaboration with a local company that specializes in drone inspections and which has developed automatic fault identification and classification of PV panels. The customer is provided with a detailed data base that contains information of each individual panel. This enables the plant operator to track the development of faulty panels over time.
The next step for GeoSUN is the implementation of a mobile PV panel test lab, designed and manufactured in Germany, which will travel to solar farms all over Southern Africa to diagnose faulty solar panels. This certified lab measures the peak power output of each panel and also uses an electroluminescence camera that diagnoses damage in the individual cells making up a panel. The damage this process detects is not apparent to the naked eye. This assessment can be used at either delivery, transport or after installation phase to spot any damage to the panel that will decrease yield. This service is planned in close collaboration with NMMU.
GeoSUN are expanding more and more into Africa, and currently provide on-site services in ten other African countries including West and East Africa. They say throughout Africa they have been pleasantly surprised with good working relationships, minimal security and theft issues and a hunger for local capacity building.
Finally GeoSUN has maintained relationships with several South African Universities groups including the Solar Thermal Energy Research Group (STERG) at the University of Stellenbosch, the Sustainable Energy Research Group (SERG) at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) in Durban and the Centre for Energy Research (CER) and Photovoltaic Test Laboratory (PVTL) both at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) in Port Elizabeth. This is also in the aid of continued research into solar irradiation measurements across South Africa for a network now known as the Southern African Universities Radiometric Network (SAURAN). While that might be a long list of names and acronyms, it is an important way that GeoSUN gives back to the academic community.
The short courses side of any tertiary institution is significant… With over 400 courses running throughout the year, Innovus decided to give SU's short courses website the attention it deserved. After all, for the majority of short course candidates – from executives grabbing a quick market related top-up to the 'learn and earn' students - the only way you can afford the time to shop for the most relevant short course is to do so online – and this information changes constantly. In essence, if it's not real-time, it's tricky to market… So, after the initial refresh in 2011, where the course systems were initially integrated with existing online systems, 2016 meant much more than just a makeover.
But, a new makeover is where it started. Understanding how visitors consume (and prefer) information, a graphic overhaul was done to bring the website up to the same level as the courses it offers – she's as beautiful outside as she is on the inside. Not only is the new short courses website far more attractive (and thus likely to get asked out more frequently), but the block-based, image-centric navigation system takes a lot of the pain of finding the right study material for you right out of the equation.
The second aspect was to make sure that course information was as real-time as it could possibly be. As it stands now the minute a course becomes available, fees change or dates move, the website is the first to know, with the student being a close second. This is now all completely mobile-friendly.
Thanks to the hard work of SU's Short Courses Division (residing under Innovus) and digital developer, NetMechanic, the short courses website is all we dreamed she could be. She's fit, she's friendly, she's looks amazing and she can now make good on her promises: to Inform, Inspire and Innovate.
For more information visit the Short Courses Website: http://shortcourses.sun.ac.za/
A visual identity – logos, fonts, colours - is important to the way a company is viewed. It is the physical representation of a brand (defined as the ways customers and consumers perceive a company and its services) – it's a badge; a stamp of approval.
This is just as important for universities as it is for corporation; the decisions people make about where to study (where to get the degrees and doctorates that effect the rest of their lives) will come down to a number of factors but, as we know perception is reality, brand will be one of the critical issues. It's also vital because of the amount of people and entities that universities touch – any of whom could, technically, appropriate their logo and visual identity for their own, less than righteous needs…
Knowing this, Stellenbosch University's TTO, Innovus, has recently taken a journey with staff, faculty heads and departments, to define exactly how the trademark of the University can, and cannot, be used. This set of rules will be completely grey-area-free, thus easier to follow, and easier to enforce (where necessary).
This process will look at all visual elements, and even the useage of the names 'University of Stellenbosch' and 'Maties' for both the parent brand and each of the sub-brands beneath it. After all, the whole is greater than the sum of the part and, without these rules and the consistency they bring, people (paving the good-intentions road) will often give our sub-brands, companies and divisions a visual life of their own, changing the way they are, and thus the way we are, represented, all of which erode the power of the group.
Not only is this an exercise in internal consistency, but in external commercialisation, too. The weight of our trademark carries value, which allows us to use it, and the portfolio of trademarks we're responsible for, for commercial value.
The successful conclusion of the project means that we will be able to communicate consistently, with complete uniformity across all divisions and sub-brands.
(The one exception is Matie's Travel, which is a travel agency named after the owner, Matie).
The process is neither easy nor brief… There are 10 rounds of approvals with the 10 faculty boards' approval being only one of those 10 rounds, after which the University Council have the final say. Not only are the departments' and role-players' voices important, but so are the thoughts of University communication specialists Phumzile Mmope and Susan van der Merwe, as well as the Senior Director of prospective students, Christel Feyt, who were consulted as a part of the activity. Phumzile and her team are a close partner of Innovus in this process as they are responsible for the management, maintainance and application of the University's Corporate Identity Guide, which spells out the exact way in which the University's crest and symbols may be used. This level of rigour is crucial and will become even more important once the policy is approved.
The policy will be finally approved in September, to the relief of staff, students and graphic designers everywhere – and we're all expecting it to be amazing.
If you've driven anywhere, ever, you've been behind, beside or around a few of the 321 000 heavy-duty trucks thundering along our roads; the red blood cells of our nation's manufacturing and goods transportation industry. And I'm sure you have, as have I, crossed your fingers and whitened your knuckles as you pass one on the highway… And you're justified – not only are the loads they transport massive, dwarfing your little Renault, but because things often don't go as smoothly as the trucking companies or, indeed, the motorists in their shadow, would like them to… Every year, millions of Rands and hundreds of lives are lost due to 'things going bad'. Some of this is driver related; some due to 'pesky low bridges' you keep hearing about on your neighbourhood's WhatsApp traffic group; but a fair amount are due to something called load shifting.
Load shifting is when the load on the back of the trucks shifts in transit, either to the right or the left, throwing the overall balance off the truck off centre. Generally this occurs because the tension of the straps (much like seatbelts) that hold the containers in place either weren't set correctly before departure, or because it changed during transport (potholes will do that). It's also important to note that it's often the tension differential between the left and the right side of the straps, that makes the difference - if there's gathered tension on the right hand side (for argument sake) and slack tension on the left, a bump will allow the differential to balance out and the container inevitably will take the path of least resistance and shift.
"How bizarre that trucks are even allowed on the road if this is a common occurrence…", you're thinking? That's exactly what Leo McNally of Stellenbosch University thought, and decided to rectify, as a part of his final year mini-thesis.
Leo, alongside lecturer Peter Blaine from the mechanical and mechatronic department, developed a technology solution that was mounted to the bed of the cargo truck, and to which the straps were attached. This device constantly measures the tension of both sides of the strap, and immediately makes adjustments when the tension changes, keeping it constant, and the containers firmly and exactly where they're supposed to be – all in less than a second. The second 'point of correction' is an alarm that sounds in the driver's compartment, alerting him to a possible load shift.
It's an idea that seems so simple that you may wonder why it hasn't actually been done before. You'd be right, and it has – but without success.
Why? Many of the devices which have already been patented end up alerting the driver every time anything at all changes – which is often - meaning that he's spending more time climbing up and down from his 18-wheeler to check the cargo than he is driving it. As a result, the idea never took off. An innovative addition to Leo's design is an accelerometer (yes, like the one in your phone), with a custom-built algorithm, so the alarm only sounds when it's critical that human intervention takes place.
The technology will not only prevent load shifting, but also increase the efficiency of the trucking company using the technology, as business imperatives like load and offload times, risk of theft during transit and hijacking are all significantly reduced.
Since the initial design a lot has happened: Innovus has helped Leo patent his technology and a company, Cargo Telematics, has been formed; a new team member, André Rademeyer, has also joined the team to look after the business side of the company. Leo even won the Pitch-in competition at the LaunchLab (Stellenbosch University's mixed-use business incubator – as if you didn't know). As a side note, the next call for applications is now open and, if you think your idea is as good as Leo's, you can apply here.
The next phase involves a second prototype, where they can get more data through testing, while they look for investors and manufacturing partners to roll the technology out.
In Leo's words, "I always wanted to start a company to invent stuff." Thanks to Cargo Telematics, that 'stuff' is going to be saving trucking and insurance companies a small fortune, along with the lives of South Africa's motorists.
In the last newsletter we talked about the game-changing S'Cool Beans, developed by a team of final year students from the University of Stellenbosch's food science department. I'll recap the basic idea for you: in a (hazel)nutshell, S'cool Beans is a chocolate- and hazelnut-flavoured sandwich spread that, instead of being jammed full of colourants, sugar, sodium and preservatives, is made from a combination of root vegetables and legumes. Essentially, they've proved that delicious can equal healthy – and the kids are loving it.
And they're not the only ones. As finalists in the annual International Union of Food Science and Technology (IUFoST) in the 'Food Scientists Fighting Hunger' category (which, as the name suggests, aims to strengthen the role of technology to end hunger and malnutrition across the globe) the recently flew to Dublin to present their idea to an international panel of judges.
Competing against teams from Singapore, Costa Rica and South Africa, the team very proudly placed second overall, after acing their poster and oral presentations. The most important endorsement came during the tasting, however, as international delegates and judges were blown away by the flavour profile, with comments about how much they 'loved it' and queries regarding S'cool Bean's availability in their own countries.
S'cool Beans could go a long way to making the li'l ones' lunchbox goodies tasty enough to ensure they're eaten, while providing them with a large portion of the energy, vitamins and minerals they need to develop. In poor communities where the monthly salary has to be incredibly pliable to cover the myrid of things it needs to, this is no easy task. Thankfully, the production of S'Cool Beans is also incredibly low-cost – so the familes who need it can afford it.
Thanks to funding and support from TIA and Innovus, Stellenbosch University's technology transfer office, the students are now looking to commercialise S'Cool Beans with a suitable industry partner, as well as pursuing further testing and marketing. Based on the reaction of the judges in Dublin, as well as the enthusiasm of the team and the ravings of those lucky enough to have tried it, South African tummies are in for a sound treat in the very near future.
She may be new to her role, but she's definitely not a new face around Innovus. It is with love and support that we congratulate Daniell Jacobs on her new position as Personal Assistant to our CEO, Anita!
The biggest endorsement of Daniell lies in the granting of the position itself; Anita is a driven, passionate businesswoman and, thus, the role of assistant will be anything but a walk in the park. Anita seems to be just as excited as Daniell is, citing her knowledge of the environment and efficiency as two of the key elements that made her "the only logical choice to replace Vanessa."
Daniell started with Innovus 4 years ago as a temporary assistant to Doris, before being made permanent shortly thereafter. When she's not lining up a thousand ducks for Anita she can be found reading, swimming (and teaching kids how to swim), watching the rugby or following up her Sports Science's diploma with a degree in psychology, which she started earlier this year.
The new Innovus power couple is now official – and the world had better take note!
In a company that specialises in tech-transfer where we help to build ideas into fledgling businesses, accounting and financial controls are (obviously) crucial. This is why we're incredibly happy to welcome Baryl to Innovus, where she'll be doing just that! Among other things…
Not only does it fall to her to make sure that budgets are accurate and adhered to (by her own admission she's pretty strict about this), she'll also be making sure that we have a solid base from which to grow. "Accountants are support for the business," relates Baryl. "We keep things in line, and make sure the foundations are solid." This includes taxes, policies and the streamlining of processes.
She recently left a position at the prestigious TNS SA, after being introduced to the University by her brother, making both Innovus and Maties more of a family affair that we already were.
She looks forward to chiselling out a position of her own, crafting the financial strategy for Innovus as well as being involved in things that matter. Even though tech-transfer is new to her, she's excited; as she eloquently puts it, "Helping people create things that change society makes me very excited."
She's recently married, loves all South African sports and devours novels like pancakes. Baryl has been appointed by SU's Finance Division to expand capacity at Innovus.
The LaunchLab is one of the most remarkable business-building tools to come out of Stellies and Innovus, which means we need someone just as remarkable to market it. Straight from a 3-year career at PR and social media agency, Hatch Communication, please welcome *drumroll* Gizelle!
Gizelle's biggest reason for moving was to tackle greater challenges, which can only be done if one steps out their comfort zone. And, step out she has; 3 months in and her new life can only be described as "Hectic!" Not only is she responsible for the social media (her true passion) and marketing for the LaunchLab itself, but also for each of the companies currently developing inside LaunchLab, working with corporate partners (like Santam, Nedbank and ATTACQ) to sponsor successful seed-fund ideas competitions and the hosting of monthly events (I got tired just writing that).
"It's insane, but I'm loving it!" says the born-networker - hopefully as much as we love having her around: her enthusiasm, energy and refusal to take 'no' for an answer are contagious. We're expecting big things!
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