#01 2023

South African innovation highlighted at Fifth Global Change Conference

By Nicole du Plessis, Egagasini Node, NRF-SAEON

The Fifth Global Change Conference, hosted by the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) and the National Research Foundation (NRF) in partnership with the University of the Free State (UFS), was held in Bloemfontein from 30 January to 2 February. Under the theme ‘Research and Innovation Accelerating Transformation towards Global Sustainability’, the conference highlighted that current societal challenges will require novel and innovative solutions from all partners in society.

On the first day of the conference, NRF-SAEON co-hosted a side event with Ocean Innovation Africa, titled ‘Innovative Opportunities in Science’. The objective of the session was to highlight the diversity of research within SAEON and the national infrastructures being hosted, and to foster dialogue on how students and researchers could use their skills and research to solve societal challenges and consider developing their entrepreneurial skills.

Dr Mary-Jane Bopape, Managing Director of SAEON, opened the side event with a brief overview of the session objectives. She highlighted how environmental risks will be one of the main challenges impacting society.

This was followed by an opening address by Professor Keolebogile Motaung of the Durban University of Technology. Prof Motaung provided an energetic talk on bridging the gap between science and entrepreneurship. She highlighted the need for researchers (including students) to consider having practical and implementable outcomes from their research, and to consider the commercial applications that could be derived from this. Prof Motaung has produced two commercial products with her students. She highlighted the importance of having research technology transfer departments at universities capable of assisting researchers with commercialising their research. She also noted that student supervisors needed to encourage their students to consider the commercial potential of their research and not hold on to the intellectual property.

Presentations on SAEON then followed, including from Dr Paul Gordijn, who provided a wonderful narrative on the development of SAEON; Prof Juliet Hermes, who highlighted the three national research infrastructures hosted by SAEON – EFTEON, SMCRI and SAPRI; Mr Thomas Mtontsi, who provided an overview of the Science Engagement and Graduate Student Network programmes; and Ms Nicole du Plessis, who provided an overview of the NRF postgraduate funding application process and the benefits of linking this to SAEON programmes.

Panel discussion

The final item on the session agenda was a panel discussion moderated by Mr Mtontsi. This was focused on ocean startup journeys and included Dr Sara Andreotti (SharkSafe Barrier), Mr Chris Thorpe (Inseco), Dr Sarah Carroll (MariHealth) and Mr Yanga Gceya (Captain Fanplastic). These startups have all participated in the Ocean Innovation Africa incubation programme. The lively discussion highlighted the skills needed to start a business, as well as the challenges and successes.

Key takeaways

  • Students (and their supervisors) should consider the ‘real world’ impact of their research and possible commercial opportunities.
  • University technology transfer offices need to be capacitated to engage with academics, and academics need to be open to developing and sharing their intellectual property in partnership with their students.
  • SAEON hosts a number of exciting research infrastructures, and this is for the benefit and use of all researchers and institutions.
  • Students should familiarise themselves with the NRF funding application processes, and talk to potential supervisors prior to applying.
  • Having a passion for your work and solving social challenges is important when developing potential entrepreneurial opportunities from your research.

The programme booklet can be downloaded from this link.

The programme booklet can be downloaded from this link 

The managing director of NRF-SAEON, Dr Mary-Jane Bopape, opens the session

Prof Keolibogile Motaung delivers her opening address on bridging the gap between science and entrepreneurship

Dr Paul Gordijn provides an introduction to SAEON

Prof Juliet Hermes highlights the three national research infrastructures hosted by SAEON

The Egagasini Node’s science engagement officer, Thomas Mtontsi, highlights SAEON’s Science Engagement initiative

Thomas Mtontsi moderates the ocean startups panel discussion. L–R: Thomas Mtontsi (SAEON), Chris Thorpe (Inseco), Dr Sara Andreotti (SharkSafe), Yanga Gceya (Captain Fanplastic) and Dr Sarah Carroll (MariHealth)