Bio-incubation for innovation support

Bio-incubation for innovation support panel

With small businesses expected to play a major role in job creation in South Africa, the mushrooming of business incubation hubs is a course of concern especially when ‘incubatees’ have to secure funding, this is according to The Innovation Hub CEO, Advocate Pieter Holl.

“In Gauteng alone, we have an estimate of 50 incubation hubs that are all competing for the same pie.  Duplicating these hubs will not be sustainable in the future; we need to develop innovative ways to support them by bringing them together to share ideas so that we can grow the economy.” 

Holl was speaking during a session at the 2019 Bio Africa Convention that was facilitated by NEPAD SANBio Network Manager, Dr Ereck Chakauya in Durban last week.

The session also had panellists from East Africa (Kenya), Zimbabwe and South Africa such as OneBio co-founder, Dr Nick Walker, TechVillage founder, Takunda Chingozoh and BecA-ILRI director, Dr Jacob Mignouna.

By nature Bio projects can be looped, long-term and risky. Moreover, there is also the issue of the rural economy, informal sector and township economy. These are imperatives that the incubator in Africa may have to deal with if they have to be relevant to the economy. The indicators of success in this context become important.

According to Chakauya, in order to combat these challenges, Africa needs to incubate ideas not only from entrepreneurs or private individuals but also from non-conventional sources such as academia and public research organisations.

“In terms of bio-businesses the highest numbers of researchers in Africa are in higher education and government, this then makes our context different from other developed countries. We need to ensure that intellectual property (IP) developed from either, research institutions, universities or government is utilised and commercialised for the benefit of our society,” he said.

Recognising this, Holl said it is for such reasons that the Gauteng Provincial Government together with the CSIR and University of Pretoria has set up the Innovation Hub to create a unique space to support entrepreneurs and ensure they contribute to the growth of the economy.

“This is where the non-conventional sources come in, dealing with government institutions as the source of IP has different challenges to having IP from private individuals.  The push for innovation is crucial for businesses wanting to keep up with the latest technological developments in the constantly changing and competitive global market place. Therefore, the transfer of technology developed by university researchers to the private sector is to improve national economic growth through greater technological innovation.”

Now in its second year, the three-day convention also drew 107 world-renowned speakers in health, food safety and close to 1000 delegates including international investors from 31 different countries. 

SANBio was one of the convention sponsors and co-hosted the pre-workshop Nagoya Protocol on Access and Benefit Sharing and its implications on the biotechnology R&D and business in Africa in partnership with the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries while SANBio Network Manager, Dr Ereck Chakauya chaired the ‘Global partnerships for sustainable agriculture, intensification and rural economic growth’ session.

Several sessions focused on funding, financiers and partnership opportunities. Speakers and delegates alike recognised the need to entice funders to invest in biotech and to this end, a bio-funding symposium has been planned.

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