New fund to support university tech entrepreneurs

Staff Writer
By Staff Writer, ITWeb
Johannesburg, 27 Mar 2024
Higher education, science and innovation minister Dr Blade Nzimande.
Higher education, science and innovation minister Dr Blade Nzimande.

The Department of Science and Innovation, in partnership with the UN Development Programme (UNDP), has introduced an innovation and commercialisation fund.

The Higher Education Innovation Fund (HEIF) seeks to empower aspiring innovators and tech entrepreneurs at South African higher education institutions by stimulating the creation of a culture of entrepreneurship and innovation in the post-school education sector, with an emphasis on job creation and spin-off companies.

Unveiling the fund this week, Dr Blade Nzimande, minister of higher education, science and innovation, said he envisions growing it to R1 billion and invited private sector companies and other funding institutions to help achieve this objective.

Says the DSI: “The HEIF will be administered through calls for proposals from interested parties with suitable programmes and expertise who will work with universities and technical and vocational education and training (TVET) colleges.

“The fund aims to solve challenges in the innovation ecosystem, such as a lack of skilled student tech entrepreneurs who can develop and commercialise competitive innovative products, a lack of entrepreneurial support and networks at universities and colleges, and limited exposure to opportunities, mentoring and coaching.

According to Nzimande, these challenges are more acute in TVET colleges and historically disadvantaged universities.

“The HEIF will support students through general entrepreneurship, ideation and design thinking, business model development, validation, commercialisation, market access, intellectual property protection and investor readiness.”

Nzimande added the fund is intended to plug the gaps in the existing instruments and programmes available to support innovation and tech entrepreneurship in the country.

UNDP resident representative Maxwell Gomera said the fund will foster a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship within universities, as educational institutions are a reservoir of untapped potential that could address many challenges in Africa, from health to technology.

“It is imperative that we build robust ecosystems that support these innovations. This means creating collaborative networks that include government, the private sector and academia, ensuring innovators have access to the mentorship, capital and platforms they need to thrive.”

In the next two months, the DSI, UNDP and the Technology Innovation Agency as a co-funder will launch two calls for proposals for interested parties with the necessary expertise to apply for funding to work with universities and TVET colleges.