Economic growth through innovation in Gauteng

Chief executives believe that technological change will be one of the biggest factors impacting growth over the next three years, second only to economic factors. They also believe the next three years will be led by technology, speed, and convergence. They further argue that these three forces will upend business models, blur lines between industries and companies, and demand a new way of thinking about business. This is contained in the US CEO Outlook 2016 report “Now or never — CEOs mobilise for the fourth industrial revolution” by auditing firm KPMG.

Recently Lulu Krugel, chief economist at KPMG, told the Mail & Guardian Critical Thinking Forum in Johannesburg that the country faces the danger of shedding jobs if it doesn’t prepare for this fourth industrial revolution.

Although the report sounds alarm bells for the job market and economy in general, in Gauteng, The Innovation Hub has been engaged in a quiet revolution of its own to meet the challenges of the projected revolution.

“Innovation is about staying abreast of competition and competitiveness,” explains McLean Sibanda, chief executive of The Innovation Hub.

He said although it was initially established as a science and technology park in Tshwane, it “has taken on the role of being an innovation agency of the Gauteng City Region and continues to manage the further development of the science park, while focusing broadly on issues of skills and entrepreneurship in as far as they relate to innovation and technology in the Gauteng City Region”.

He said the Science and Technology Park itself is a leading science park and fully accredited member of the International Association of Science Parks, and has become a benchmark facility for many developing countries.

To articulate The Innovation Hub’s positioning and significance in the broader economic sector, Sibanda cited a recent World Economic Forum report, which explains that the fourth industrial revolution is “characterised by a range of new technologies that are fusing the physical, digital and biological worlds, impacting all disciplines, economies and industries, and even challenging ideas about what it means to be human”.

Innovation, says Sibanda, is generally about addressing problems faced by society and economies, and the The Innovation Hub plays a number of key roles in fostering prosperity.

“For Gauteng, innovation is important for positioning the Gauteng City Region as the generator of solutions for addressing both local and global challenges, consolidating Gauteng’s position as a competitive city region, and generating economic opportunities that assist in employment creation as well as reduce our balance of trade payments through increased exports of high value goods and services,” says Sibanda.

At present, more than 100 entrepreneurs are incubated through The Innovation Hub’s programmes “whose work is premised on a number of strategic partnerships with both public and private local and international organisations”.

Some of the innovations being developed at The Innovation Hub include health solutions such as blood-based TB Diagnostics, Bone Regeneration Technology, a leakless valve for toilets, innovative cosmetics solutions, Fintech and educational solutions, and gaming and animation solutions.

The BioPark incubator and the Gauteng Accelerator Programme Innovation Competitions are used to identify and incubate innovative health biotechnology solutions. Sibanda says these are aimed at ensuring that South Africa effectively responds not only to current but looming health challenges.

“Some of the companies we are incubating are working on therapeutics and diagnostics related to diseases associated with HIV, such as TB diagnostics and mouth thrush, cancer, and immune compromised patients,” he says.

Although health and education are usually at the top of the pyramid in terms of societal needs, surprisingly gaming ranks very high up in the innovation business.

“Gaming is cross-cutting and will permeate all aspects of life, education and business. Gaming is a huge industry: at $100-billion, it is projected to grow exponentially and South Africa can become an important contributor,” says Sibanda.

As a result of this eyebrow-raising development, The Innovation Hub has established the Maxum Digital as a specialised incubation programme to support entrepreneurs in gaming, animation and virtual reality innovations.

Sibanda says the partnership with Wits University in Tshimologong ICT district is important, given the university’s graduate programmes in gaming.

“The Maxum Digital incubator will provide entrepreneurial opportunities and support to these students, but [will] also offer support to township entrepreneurs to enter the gaming and animation sector,” he says.

As part of its strategy to increase visibility The Innovation Hub has initiated a number of outreach programmes which include the eKasiLabs and the Start-up Weekends.

Sibanda says they are also running a number of schools and VacWork programmes in partnership with the City of Tshwane and Geekulcha in a bid to increase awareness of their work.

“We are also going to be telling more stories about our entrepreneurs and we will be launching a new marketing and visibility strategy in 2017, to ensure that The Innovation Hub is readily recognisable,” he says.

In line with keeping up with global trends and the need to provide fast and efficient services, government has for years been working on rolling out and perfecting it’s e-government strategy that will make most government services available 24/7.

Sibanda says The Innovation Hub has a critical role to play on this front as well. He says its Maxum Business Incubator, eKasiLabs and its collaboration with Tshimologong Precinct, they will be identifying and supporting entrepreneurs with innovative e-government solutions.

In addition, says Sibanda, through the OpenIX programme that The Innovation Hub runs, it continues to work with government departments to identify their most pressing challenges and then find solutions from SMMEs, academic and research institutions, and entrepreneurs and industry, to address these challenges and support government’s e-government strategy.

The Innovation Hub is also looking beyond the office, using such initiatives as Hackathons, boot-camps and start-up weekends to develop a healthy pipeline of e-government solutions.

In view of the coming storm of the fourth industrial revolution, facilities such as The Innovation Hub have an immensely critical role to play in helping to boost the economy, create sustainable jobs and promote a culture of entrepreneurship.

“Firstly, as science and technology parks and innovation agencies, they are able to bring together all the various parties in an innovation ecosystem to collaborate in addressing societal challenges and also in taking advantage of emerging economic opportunities,” says Sibanda.

“Secondly, they facilitate the transfer of knowledge from academic and research institutions into industry and society to provide competitiveness and address service delivery in society. Thirdly, they play an important role in incubating businesses and skills of the future; and lastly, they provide environments that stimulate innovation and growth by enabling collaboration and providing value-added services to both nascent and established businesses.” 

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Lucas Ledwaba
Lucas Ledwaba
Journalist and author of Broke & Broken - The Shameful Legacy of Gold Mining in South Africa.

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