Completion of the two-day Innovation Ecosystems and Academic Entrepreneurship workshop of 16 to 17 February gave a sense of fulfilment to Ms Meekness Lunga-Ayidu, Programme Manager at British Council South Africa — so she said, as the Entrepreneurship Development in Higher Education (EDHE) programme training intervention was wrapping up, on Thursday, 17 February.
According to Ms Lunga-Ayidu (left), this workshop had marked the germination of a seed that was planted through an email from a colleague in the British Council head office in the United Kingdom, who had notified her during 2021, of an opportunity to apply for funding to support initiatives strengthening research capacity at universities. Remembering a need expressed in the EDHE Phase Two proposal earlier in the year to address the innovation and commercialisation of research in South Africa’s higher education sector, Ms Lunga-Ayidu immediately contacted Dr Norah Clarke, Director: EDHE at Universities South Africa (USAf).
The Innovation Ecosystems and Academic Entrepreneurship workshop that concluded on 17 February 2022 was the culmination of that exchange.
The British Council, an organisation that fosters cultural relations, supports educational initiatives, and builds connections, trust and understanding between people of the UK and other countries, also runs a Going Global Partnerships Programme, which funded the Baseline Study on Commercialisation of Research in South African Universities through EDHE. The study, carried out between December 2021 and January 2022, sought to identify, and understand the barriers and enablers of the universities’ innovation ecosystems to unlock support, and to address and find solutions to increase impact through innovation.
That study was led by Oxentia Ltd, Oxford University’s Global Innovation Consultancy that offers strategic support for innovation strategy development and related services, including research. Findings of that study had, in part, informed the choice of best practices and tools shared at the now completed workshop. This, as Oxentia consultants and workshop facilitators equipped South Africa’s academics and other professionals with strategies to bridge the gap between research, innovation, and commercialisation.
“As I reflected on this workshop, I felt a sense of fulfilment — seeing that the joint proposal that Dr Clarke and I collaborated to write had resulted in this event, which, I must say, has been a huge success,” Lunga-Ayidu said. She then recognised all other role players, namely the EDHE team within USAf, her own colleagues within British Council SA, the Department of Higher Education and Training as EDHE’s main funder, EDHE’s Community of Practice in Entrepreneurship Learning and Teaching and the Oxentia partners.
She added that insights and the thought leadership from Oxentia experts had “shed a wealth of information and provided an excellent learning opportunity for all our universities’ stakeholders.” She then said she saw the university participants as change makers and the ones who stood to offer valuable contributions, not only within their institutions but in the entire national innovation ecosystem. “So, as you depart from the workshop today, we hope that the ideas and the knowledge that you have gained will translate into something meaningful.”
Reflections and closing remarks from other role players
Dr Alexandra Bush – Managing Consultant at Oxentia Ltd: A key highlight for me was the engagement and enthusiasm of our participants throughout the two days, whether attending physically in person or on the online platform; it was great to share with participants tools, frameworks and good practice to support them in their Knowledge Exchange and Commercialisation journeys. We know from our workshop discussions the need to raise dedicated champions in Knowledge Exchange and Commercialisation (KEC); having the time and resources to engage in KEC, so that the champions feel empowered to deliver this activity with the priority and support needed from leadership to enable it to happen and move research to market in South Africa. This is mainly because Knowledge Exchange and Commercialisation is currently not widely recognised as an output activity through key performance indicators. Tasks in this area often fall through the cracks. So, if we could include this in policy with KPIs within institutions, it would raise the profile of Knowledge Exchange and Commercialisation and promote innovation from South Africa.
Professor Matshediso Mohapeloa – Associate Professor and Acting Director at Rhodes University’s Centre for Entrepreneurship Rapid Incubator (RU-CFERI), and the Co-Chair of EDHE’s Community of Practice in Entrepreneurship Learning and Teaching: What I am taking home from this workshop is that we can work systematically as diverse teams of academics, tech transfer offices or the ecosystem. And we can strengthen these Knowledge Exchange and Commercialisation processes to make sure that the pipeline gets to be a success for our institutions. Within South Africa, there is a lot that we can achieve. It is not only technology. We have tended to perceive the tech transfer office as focusing only on technology, and from this workshop, we’ve learnt that there is a lot more that we can get out of TTOs. The important part is how to make sure that our research becomes impactful because that is the outcome we are after.
Professor Thobeka Ncanywa – Professor of Economics in the Faculty of Education, Department of Economic and Management Sciences at Walter Sisulu University, and a member on EDHE’s Community of Practice in Entrepreneurship Learning and Teaching: What I want to say is that our universities, diverse as they are, are all in transformation — and entrepreneurship is the way to go. This commercialisation is going to impact universities’ activities at all different levels – at the students’ level, at the academics’ level as well as at management. Entrepreneurship is the way to go. Transformation will grow through entrepreneurship.
Ms Jaci Barnett – Head of Consulting Services at Oxford University Innovation: I agree that entrepreneurship and new venture creation is important, but there is a much bigger picture than just that. Academic entrepreneurship comes in many forms. So, while it is still great to start companies and make an impact through them, you can also pursue academic entrepreneurship through consultancy, through public engagement, through licensing, through community projects, and through social enterprises. We need to look at our research outputs with that bigger picture in mind as well as equip our students to think more broadly about how they can make an impact through entrepreneurship.
EDHE’s other upcoming events
Ms Zana Boshoff, Project Manager: Entrepreneurship, presented a summarised calendar of EDHE events lined up in 2022, a summary of which is captured in the banner below. She encouraged everyone to visit the EDHE website to learn more about these events.
Founded in 2016, the EDHE Programme is widely acknowledged in the higher education sector as an answer to South Africa’s high unemployment. The programme is currently in Phase Two, pursuing goals to a) equip every student and graduate for economic participation through entrepreneurial activity; b) support academics across disciplines to develop entrepreneurship through teaching, learning and research; and c) support universities as entrepreneurial and innovative ecosystems, which includes relevant policy development. EDHE’s overarching theme for 2022 is #MoveToMarket.
EDHE is a programme of the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) being implemented and administered under Universities South Africa (USAf). It is funded through the DHET’s University Capacity Development Programme.
Nqobile Tembe is a Communication Consultant contracted to Universities South Africa.