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Wits Innovation Centre aims to resolve real-world problems

Staff Writer
By Staff Writer, ITWeb
Johannesburg, 19 Apr 2023
Inside the Wits Innovation Centre.
Inside the Wits Innovation Centre.

The Wits Innovation Centre (WIC) signals a new era in accelerating “innovation for societal good” in SA, says the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits University).

The multidisciplinary hub, launched this week, is described as a space to create, collaborate and engage in impactful innovation, across SA’s disciplines and sectoral boundaries.

According to a statement, the WIC will harness the creativity of the university’s community of researchers, academics and students, to solve complex, real-world problems confronting humanity and our planet. These include climate change, global health threats, poverty and inequality, and developing ethical and sustainable technologies.

As a starting point, the new Angela and David Fine Chair in Innovation has been established, having been made possible through a “generous donation” from Wits alumnus and innovator Dr David Fine, notes the institution.

The Chair in Innovation is held by Dr Adam Pantanowitz, biomedical and electrical engineer at Wits, who is also the first director of the WIC.

An artificial intelligence expert, technologist and entrepreneur, Dr Pantanowitz is known for initiating and leading the first group in the world to connect a human brain live and mobile to the internet in a project called the Brainternet – a term he coined, says Wits.

“When we look around, we might see our world filled with challenges. We have, however, all of the tools available to us to find solutions,” says Dr Pantanowitz. “The WIC’s arrival ushers in a new impetus to do so, leveraging the great assets, minds and tools at our university.

“Wits has always played a leading role in South African society, and can now take a leading role in innovating for societal good. The WIC is a model for how universities can adapt and change in a fast-changing world, to leverage internal assets, partnerships, and most importantly, knowledge creation to help the broader community and impact the world.”

Dr Adam Pantanowitz, the first director of the Wits Innovation Centre.
Dr Adam Pantanowitz, the first director of the Wits Innovation Centre.

The WIC recently announced the first such collaboration with the establishment of the Telkom Industry Solutions Lab, a commercial research and development facility. Multidisciplinary teams from Wits and Telkom will collaborate to research and develop ideas and opportunities that add value to the business and broader telecoms industry.

The appointment of tech and innovation management professional Letlotlo Phohole as senior programme manager of the WIC will help establish the WIC as a leading interface to foster collaboration between Wits and industry, notes the university.

"Through our Solutions Labs, the Wits Innovation Centre will provide a powerful platform to address industry, community and societal problems with an entrepreneurial mind-set,” says Phohole.

“By involving multiple faculties, disciplines, entrepreneurs, students and industry partners, we will foster a collaborative environment that promotes cross-pollination of ideas and a diversity of perspectives. This will not only enhance the quality and breadth of innovations but also create a community that encourages experimentation and risk-taking, and instils an entrepreneurial mindset that values agility, resilience and adaptability.”