UCT Innovation Forum Launches

9 May 2012 - 20:15

Having interacted with a number of top global higher education institutions, Gordon said that on returning to South Africa recently he is convinced that South Africa has the ability to be successful at innovation and entrepreneurship - but it's a mindset change that needs to happen.

Pharmaceutical companies are increasingly looking to universities for their next drugs - 70% of drugs these days are developed outside companies; in-house drug discovery has halved in European pharma firms over the last couple of years and universities can play a major role. This is something that Gordon is driving through his involvement in the Drug Discovery Centre, H3D, headed by Prof Kelly Chibale.

Gordon stressed that "UCT should have its destiny in its own hands, with access to its own funding for innovation - one cannot only rely on the government or the Venture Capital industry". This is something that UCT already has in hand with the launch at the end of 2011 of fundraising towards the UCT Evergreen Fund, which will provide innovation funding in the range R500k to R1.5m. This builds on the success of the smaller-scale PreSeed Fund that has operated since 2008 providing the UCT innovators with grants of between R20k and R100k.

Gordon ended off an excellent presentation that provided insight into the various start-up companies he has been associated with in the pharmaceutical space with the provocative question - "if Mark Shuttleworth were at UCT today, would UCT help, hinder or facilitate him in his endeavors?"

The Innovation Working Group was established in 2010, is chaired by Dean of Engineering and Built Environment, Prof Francis Petersen, and has representation from each faculty along with Research Contracts and IP Services. Petersen mentioned that in 2010 a comprehensive survey of academics was conducted at UCT to assess the "state of innovation" at the institution and to identify inhibitors. Two primary themes that emerged were: access to funding; and incentives.

Petersen said that the "Innovation Forum is a discussion forum around innovation, to enhance its profile. It's understood that it is not for every academic, but the goal is to influence the creation of an enabling environment for innovation to realise the intrinsic value of innovation at the university". He continued to say that the "research strategy already speaks to innovation, but we want to see a continuum with no explicit separation".