Tuks to groom tech-skilled entrepreneurs

The University of Pretoria's incubation facility focuses on tech entrepreneurship skills.
The University of Pretoria's incubation facility focuses on tech entrepreneurship skills.

Following the lead of institutions like Stellenbosch University, the University of Pretoria has turned its focus to entrepreneurship development within the technology space at academic level.

The university is now home to the TuksNovation High-Tech Business Incubator, which was unveiled yesterday in partnership with the Small Enterprise Development Agency (Seda) and the Department of Small Business Development.

Strategically located within the university's engineering, built environment and IT faculty, TuksNovation will provide technology-focused entrepreneurship skills to 3 800 postgraduate students as well as tech start-ups.

In addition, the incubator aims to provide innovative enterprise development services to advance and commercialise the university's laboratory-developed technology into new sustainable enterprises with social and economic impact in SA.

Fixing unemployment

With the rise of SA's unemployment rate, government has been vocal about the need to encourage an entrepreneurial ecosystem. Furthermore, calls for academic institutions to prioritise technology and innovation in their curriculum have increased.

The state believes academic institutions have a critical role to play in implementing innovative strategies to leverage and commercialise research institution-developed technologies to create sustainable new enterprises and subsequently job opportunities.

With this in mind, TuksNovation was developed based on the triple helix model of building strong networks between academia, government and industry to create new companies to benefit broader society.

TuksNovation offers technology development and commercial support throughout the business development life cycles. The incubator also provides technology development and entrepreneurship skills support to ensure the technology is fully developed and addresses a relevant market need. There is also an acceleration programme for commercialisation and business growth.

South Africa's challenges must not be seen as problems but as opportunities for young entrepreneurs, says Seda CEO Mandisa Tshikwatamba. "There are many other challenges that confront the country, which require technological and digital intervention, and in the process, create sustainable enterprises capable of helping the country to tackle our high unemployment rate."

For enterprises to stay relevant, they must set their innovation bar higher, comments Tshikwatamba.

"Responding to the demands of the fourth industrial revolution and keeping abreast with unfolding technological uncertainties require entrepreneurs to up their innovation game.

"More importantly, we need to tap into these technologies to develop them into commercially viable enterprises that are capable of resolving some of our most pressing socio-challenges."

She noted the department has prioritised research and development in the field of small business development.

Entrepreneurial spirit

According to Anea Burke, TuksNovation centre manager, tertiary institutions are well positioned to address graduate unemployment by promoting and creating opportunities for entrepreneurship.

"The University of Pretoria is positioning itself as an entrepreneurial university through collaboration with government, industry, alumni and other stakeholders. It is from this vision that the establishment of TuksNovation came about."

Burke is of the view that by identifying and supporting promising early stage innovations, TuksNovation lowers the risk to the technology development and commercialisation stages for both inventors and investors.

University of Pretoria VC and principal professor Cheryl de la Rey points out that institutions should focus on contributing to socio-economic impact.

She believes this can be done by producing top-quality graduates, who have the skills relevant to the changing world, and creating new enterprises flowing from research and innovation.

"For South Africa, this imperative is more important than perhaps elsewhere in the world.

"There is growing concern among all of us about the prospect of our graduates. Hence, as a university, graduate employability has become a priority focus area for us," she concludes.

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