Technology and innovation incubated in South Africa’s universities is, as a result, edging closer to commercialisation, creating significant economic, investment and job creation opportunities.
This also serves to elevate South Africa’s homegrown technological innovation on a global scale and prevent local skills from leaving South Africa’s shores in search of better opportunities elsewhere.
The UTF is a product of the SA SME Fund, with the University of Cape Town (UCT) and Stellenbosch University (SU) the first two universities to participate in the initiative.
UCT and SU have been provided with university spin-off companies and access to an initial R50-million, as well as additional seed funding to support innovation projects within these universities.
However, since February, the UTF has raised R230-million and, thus far, has invested in five companies that have developed technology for use in the biosciences/biotech, health and medical diagnostics and energy industries.
Thus far, the UTF has invested in healthcare sensing solutions company BioCODE (SU), autophagy sensor technology company Phagoflux (SU), biopharming company Cape Bio Pharms (UCT), hydrogen power solutions company Hydrogen Energy Applications (UCT) and pathology software developer Hyrax Biosciences (UCT).
The UTF has also recently signed a term sheet to conclude an investment in Stellenbosch Nanofiber Company (SU).
Funds invested in these opportunities will be allocated to pre-commercialisation funding, which includes proof-of-concept and technology development support, as well as for commercialisation and growth.
UTF partner Wayne Stocks says the growth and scale of university technology funds globally is testament to the success of these funds as an investment asset class. “Likewise, South Africa has the opportunity to commercialise its university-developed intellectual property (IP) and technology for the benefit of the country.”
He points out that while South Africa’s industrial catalyst – the mining industry – has been slow and largely unsuccessful in its beneficiation of the country’s gold, diamonds and other valuable minerals, the country has a unique opportunity to beneficiate a further valuable commodity – its university IP and technology.
“The UTF intends to do just this for the benefit of the country and the economy.”
UTF chairperson Tom Hockaday says South Africa has a wealth of untapped university IP and technology innovation that is “ripe” for commercialisation. “Our own experience in the UK shows us that this is an achievable objective that can have a hugely positive impact on the economy.”
He says the fund will set South Africa on a trajectory to improve the economy and create jobs, and enable the country to develop products and services to better serve society, and improve people’s lives.
Hockaday oversaw the expansion of Oxford University Innovation into one of the world’s significant university technology commercialisation organisations. He also published his book – University Technology Transfer: What It Is and How to Do It – in April.
Meanwhile, Stocks points out that, since the UTF’s launch, it has become clear from the high quality and greater numbers of potential companies and technologies that the UTF has identified across South Africa’s 26 universities, that more funds are required to unlock the potential of these businesses.
“Consequently, UTF is seeking additional funding from both local and international investors.”
SA SME Fund CEO Ketso Gordhan says the SA SME Fund saw the need for South Africa and the African continent’s first university tech fund.
“The UTF is an excellent example of what is possible when the public and private sector partner for the betterment of South Africa. ”
UTF’s investors include the SA SME Fund, the Technology Innovation Agency, the Small Enterprise Funding Agency, a general partner and significant co-investment from UCT and SU.