Speech by the Minister of Science and Technology, Naledi Pandor MP, on the occasion of the Innovation Fund annual report handover ceremony, Kiviets Kroon, Pretoria
1 Oct 2009
Master of ceremonies
Vice Chairperson of the Technology Innovation Agency (TIA) Board, Dr Patrick Ngwenya
Members of the TIA Board
Members of the Innovation Fund’s Interim Investment Committee
Acting Executive Directors of the Innovation Fund, Mr Duncan Raftesath and Mr McLean Sibanda
Ladies and gentlemen
It’s now some 13 years since the then Department of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology published the Science and Technology White Paper.
The White Paper set out the department’s views on what role science and technology should play in South Africa. It gave a particular emphasis to the social benefits that science and technology offer; improving transport and communications, building safer and more comfortable accommodation, providing better medical care, researching cleaner and safer energy, providing food and water security, and developing or maintaining infrastructure to support all the basic necessities of life.
In 1998 the Innovation Fund began to build a bridge between applied research and the market
The White Paper defined a number of goals, one of which was improved "support for all kinds of innovation" and, in particular, the creation of an Innovation Fund, which was to "offer a new lead in encouraging and enabling longer-term, large innovation projects in the higher education sector, government science institutions, civil society or the private sector".
And so it came to pass.
The former Department of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology established the Innovation Fund in the 1998/99 financial year. It started as a closed-call fund, and since then it has been through a number of functional and institutional manifestations. Today, ten years later, the National Research Foundation manages the Fund.
The Innovation Fund has been a bridge between research and the market place. It has promoted technological innovation by investing wisely in late stage research and development, intellectual property protection and commercialisation.
Its successes over the last ten years are a tribute to those who put so much thought into drafting the White Paper. Recognising this, in 2004 an international review panel declared: “The Innovation Fund, to date, has a very good record of accomplishment. Therefore, the panel wants to emphasise that its recommendations are set forth with the sole and ambitious intent of improving an already performing institution so that it can reach higher levels of performance.”
Now "times are a-changing".
The Department of Science and Technology established the Technology Innovation Agency - the TIA - earlier this year. This new agency will take over from the Innovation Fund. The Department of Science and Technology has been working hard to ensure that TIA hits the ground running, and I am confident that the experience and expertise of the Innovation Fund will provide a sound foundation for the TIA.
Thanks to the Innovation Fund, the foundations of the TIA are firmly rooted, with:
* processes and criteria for evaluating investment opportunities across the innovation value chain
* a sound intellectual property management platform critical to ensuring that the investments TIA makes are not only technically sound but are based on original South African concepts, giving them a competitive edge
* a comprehensive portfolio of investments across the entire innovation value chain
* a variety of effective capacity development programmes aimed at the creation of entrepreneurial culture and innovation enabling skills
* a legacy of proven methodology to promote a culture of technological innovation.
Over the past decade the Innovation Fund has developed a rigorous process for evaluating applications for innovation support and funding. The focus has been on the originality and inventiveness of the proposed technology, market need and size, the capacity of the team and potential national benefit. Through its ability to make realistic assessments of this data, the Innovation Fund has created a compendium of investment criteria that focuses on all the important considerations essential for successful market entry.
Over the last 10 years the Innovation Fund invested R1,2 billion in 270 projects
Nevertheless, proof of the success of the Innovation Fund’s efforts lies in the projects it has supported.
Let me mention two of these for illustrative purposes:
South Africans who are have lost an eye now have access to artificial eyeballs that are uniquely capable of moving synchronously with the remaining eye, making the recipients’ disability almost imperceptible.
So far, over 200 people have received eye-born orbital implants, which cost substantially less than imported orbital implants, and are therefore more accessible to patients in the public health sector.
In respect of women’s health, one of the challenges facing our national health system has been in the early detection, treatment and management of cervical cancer.
According to the Cancer Association of South Africa, cervical cancer is a preventable disease and is curable if detected in its early stages. Yet it is the leading cause of cancer deaths among South African women, more than 3 400 of whom die of it every year. The World Health Organisation has recommended the pap smear as a method of screening.
However, despite the national Department of Health’s cervical screening policy, which entitles all women from the age of 30 to three free pap smears in a lifetime, at 10 year intervals, many women still do not go for screening.
One of the primary reasons for this is that the medical examination is intrusive and is seen as undignified by many women.
The good news is that the Innovation Fund has funded a self-sampling product called femipap, which will enable women to collect the cells necessary to test for cervical cancer in the comfort and privacy of their own homes. This should result in reduced mortality in women at risk of contracting this detectable and preventable disease.
These are merely two of a portfolio of 270 projects that the Innovation Fund has supported, and the sort of success stories we would like to see multiply the impact of science and technology on our society and economy under the Technology Innovation Agency.
The Innovation Fund also has human capital development programmes
In addition to this project portfolio, the Innovation Fund has a number of human capital development programmes; a Candidate Patent Attorney Programme, the Commercialisation Managers Development Programme, and Technology Transfer Office support programmes.
Ms Teresiah Malatji is the first graduate of the Candidate Patent Attorney Programme. I congratulate Terry.
Following in her footsteps is Dr Anu Idicula, who is expected to be admitted as an attorney in the next financial year.
There are another seven candidates in this programme, and five candidates in the Commercialisation Managers Development Programme, which aims to develop business management skills for innovation.
About a week ago, at the Bio2Biz conference, I had the pleasure of awarding a prize to the winner of the Second South Africa Bio Plan competition, one of three competitions run by the Innovation Fund with the aim of promoting a culture of technological innovation.
In closing, allow me ladies and gentlemen, to thank the Innovation Fund staff, past and present, for their sterling work over the years. My department and I are proud of you. I would like to thank in particular McLean Sibanda and Duncan Raftesath, who served as senior managers of the Innovation Fund and are currently co-acting Executive Directors. Thank you for your stewardship.
Finally it is my pleasure to receive the Innovation Fund’s Annual Report for 2008/09, which I have no doubt tells an inspiring story of South African innovative capability.
I thank you.
Issued by: Department of Science and Technology
1 October 2009
Source: Department of Science and Technology (http://www.dst.gov.za/)
Issued by: Department of Science and Technology
1 Oct 2009
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