The chairperson of the council of the University of Johannesburg and chairperson of the Da Vinci Institute for Technology Management, Professor Roy Marcus, has hailed the quality of South African innovators. At the same time, he lamented the fact that most of their compatriots were unaware of this.
"One of the critical issues is that we don't know how good we are," he told journalists at the Innovation Bridge in Pretoria on Monday. "There are technologies [developed] here that are absolutely world class."
But developing an innovation is only the start of a process. "Our innovators have got to find a way to market it," he highlighted. The Innovation Bridge is designed to facilitate the development and marketing of local innovations. "It's like a bidding process." The innovators need to convince potential investors to put their money into their projects.
"They [innovators] need to get away from the idea that Pretoria will provide," he asserted. While government support was needed for big science projects, it was not required to support a lot of innovation.
Regarding patents, these "are not the be all and end all". In some sectors, technological progress was so fast that an innovation could be developed, successfully marketed, widely sold and become obsolete and be replaced by a new development before a patent would be granted for the original innovation, so time consuming is the patent process.
There are, however, other issues, administrative, financial, legal, facing local innovators. "The real issue is to break down these obstacles," he affirmed. "But it's not just a government thing. It's also a private sector thing." Established major South African companies are not funding or otherwise supporting innovators of small start-up companies, unlike the situation in countries such as the US. Furthermore, "we need mentoring". Innovative start-ups would benefit a lot, for example, from the advice and expertise of retired CEOs.