Innovus companies thrive despite adversaries

Innovus companies thrive despite adversaries

Innovus companies thrive despite adversaries


Innovus, Stellenbosch University’s (SU) innovation and commercialisation division, has since its inception in 1998 seen many startups grow into successful businesses. Every year, Innovus celebrates the people heading up these successful companies on a special event.


Currently, the SU Group of Companies employs 342 people, has a combined annual turnover of R360 million, and makes an impact on society through a variety of products and services across many industries, including health, energy, new materials, space technology, and agriculture.  USE received R7.4 million in dividends in 2022,” said Anita Nel, Chief Director: Innovation and Commercialisation.


Welcoming the directors, CEOs, professors, researchers, post-docs and entrepreneurs to this year’s event at The Salene - Stellenbosch, Anita paid tribute to them for taking the lead on innovation at SU.


In his address, Prof Stan du Plessis, SU's Chief Operating Officer, welcomed the CEOs of SU's six new companies: Cybarete, Bazifeet, Scientia, FluoroBiotech, TerraClim and Nonosene. “We are terrifically excited about the prospects for your companies. And we see rising diversity in the management of our spin-out companies too, with women managing four of these new spin-out companies,” Prof Du Plessis says.


Speaking from his own experience as a macroeconomist, Prof du Plessis reminded the audience that they are managing their companies in a complex adaptive system, called the economy, where local national, and international factors play important roles – factors that one does not have control over, making it important to adapt and mitigate the impact of those forces on your business.


He referred to the challenge of building companies in an international economy recovering from a pandemic, while locally our economy has stagnated — even deteriorated — for at least fifteen years, with real GDP per capita at the same level as what it was in 2007.


He was describing a very doom and gloom economic picture of South Africa, with a dysfunctional rail network and deteriorating road network, the continued demise of our parastatals, widespread corruption and government failure across many departments, not to mention the national energy crisis. Nevertheless, Prof du Plessis reminded us that SA business leaders have found ways of working — even in these circumstances.


He quoted Herb Kelleher, former CEO of Southwest Airlines, who he said: “When a calamitous event clobbers an industry or the overall economy, companies fall into one of three categories: those that pull ahead, those that fall behind, and those that die. The disruption itself does not determine your category. You do.”


“We have also seen our companies thrive despite these calamitous shocks,” said Prof du Plessis, referring to the record dividend and growth in staff being employed by SU Group of Companies. “Furthermore, our companies received external investment of more than R200 000 000, and USE made a total investment of more than R28 000 000 between 2000 and 2002. The UTF invested in seven of our spinout companies: Stellenbosch Nanofiber Company, BioCODE, GreenX Engineering, Immobazyne, FluoroBiotech, Phagoflux and Cybarete.”


“You the CEOs of our spinout companies have not only found ways to build resilience but have even thrived despite the tremendous challenges,” Prof Stan concluded.