Government plays matchmaker between innovators and business

Tuesday marks day one of South Africa’s first “innovation bridge” in Pretoria, a Department of Science and Technology event to match-make innovators with business.

While a lot of innovation and research & development (R&D) takes place in South Africa, little of this makes its way onto the market or into companies.

Government, through the National Research Foundation, universities and research councils, is the major funder of R&D in the country, but often these developments stay in the laboratory, due to a lack of venture capital, difficulties faced by start-ups or industry ignorance.

“The [innovation bridge], which is the first-of-its-kind in South Africa, is intended to exhibit publicly funded technology innovation and create matchmaking opportunities for technology developers, financiers, funders and technology users,” Science and Technology Minister Naledi Pandor said on Monday, ahead of the event.

“Knowledge is the currency of the global economy. If South Africa wants to continue to compete in the 21st century, we must support research and innovation that will generate growth and jobs, now and in the future.”

But the 2010 ministerial review into the science technology and innovation landscape, published in 2012, spoke of a fragmented research-scape, in which there was little communication between government, academia and industry and that, as a result, there was a lack of co-ordination, agenda-setting and prioritisation.

Commissioned by Pandor, the Department of Science and Technology has made headway on a number of the recommendations in the report.

In 2013, the former science and technology minister convened a Science and Innovation Summit, the largest meeting of science stakeholders at that time. 

He said at the event, which was held in Limpopo, “We’ve slipped backwards [in terms of R&D spend as a percentage of gross domestic product]. One of the reasons is reduced spending by the private sector. What can we [as government] do to encourage the private sector to allocate greater resources to R&D?”

This “innovation bridge” is a step towards taking South African research out of university laboratories and into the public and business space, through public-private partnerships. It will showcase up to 75 technologies from more than 30 publicly funded research institutions.

An event website would remain active after the “innovation bridge” to facilitate future technology development and product commercialisation, Pandor said.

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