Source: Department of Science and Technology
Title: SA: Pandor: Address by Minister of Science and Technology, at the launch of the Southern Gauteng Regional Innovation Forum and Science Park, Vanderbijlpark
Prof Irene Moutlana, Vice Chancellor of Vaal University of Technology (VUT)
Mr MG Qhena, Chief Executive Officer of Industrial Development Corporation (IDC)
Mr McLean Sibanda, CEO of the Innovation Hub
Prof Alwyn Louw, Deputy Vice Chancellor Academic and Research of VUT
Prof Deon de Beer, Executive Director Technology Transfer and Innovation of VUT
Mr. Aki Enkenberg; Counsellor (Science, Technology and Innovation), Embassy of Finland
It’s a great pleasure to be here today to participate in the launch of the Southern Gauteng Regional Innovation Forum.
It’s a great pleasure to be in the presence of current and future thought leaders, knowledge generators and problem solvers who can and must assist in solving our socio-economic problems.
I think today’s event can be an important catalyst in creating further interest in science and technology and the benefits it can bring to society.
A science park and incubator within the Southern Gauteng Region will support innovation by transforming new ideas into new products, services and processes. Located at a provincial and local level, science parks are key components of our innovation system. They contribute to the creation of jobs and social and economic benefits.
Since its establishment as an independent Department in 2004, the DST has created a number of initiatives to increase the production of basic scientific knowledge through our flagship programmes, such as the Centres of Excellence and the Research Chair initiatives. These initiatives are mainly positioned at some of our universities with the primary purpose of creating new scientific knowledge that benefit our national and regional development objectives.
The DST has also invested in creating institutional structures to support Innovation. The Technology Innovation Agency (TIA) and National Intellectual Property Management Offices (NIPMO) are two of the important entities that were created to fulfil the mandate of funding and protecting intellectual property respectively.
Our innovation system consists of science councils, universities, research agencies and business R&D units. The growth of this system is central to protecting current employment and but also to creating new, sustainable jobs through the creation of new companies. International trends indicate that national growth increasingly depends on the creation of small and medium sized companies, particularly at a regional and local level and must be seen as a priority if we want to accelerate job creation.
This is true in South Africa as well. Small and medium-size companies contribute 40% of our GDP and account for 60% of all employment.
So this is where we should be focusing. And yet we know – according to Global Entrepreneurship Monitor - that our early-stage entrepreneurship is low in comparison with other similar countries.
And that is why projects like this science park hold out such promise. We have to encourage entrepreneurship both inside and outside of universities.
I have been considering whether special incentives should be created to encourage students to start university-based business start-ups.
All other BRICS countries support university-based business start-ups in one way or another. We have dozens of private-sector schemes that support entrepreneurship and a few government ones (DTI) as well.
What we don't have is a set of initiatives targeted at students in universities, who are, as I am sure you will all agree, the key to future innovation.
Two important reviews of our innovation system, the Cooperative Framework on Innovation Systems between Finland and South (COFISA) and the OECD review made important recommendations on how to improve our regional and local innovation systems.
Some of the main problems identified through COFISA were:
Underdeveloped provincial systems of innovation that are inadequately integrated with the national system;
a lack of provincial innovation institutions like innovation incubators and science parks;
poor communication and collaboration between national and local levels of government;
lack of connection and cooperation between the formal and the informal economies.
The OECD review of the South African innovation system highlighted comparable weaknesses - the limited government innovation activity at a provincial and local level.
Consequently, the DST began to invest in the development of regional innovation forums - the first pilot forum was launched in March last year in the Eastern Cape Province. Forums aim to bring together industry, government, academia and civil society to create an enabling environment for innovation and to create synergies between the different parties. The forums link role players together to ensure there is less duplication of initiatives, and they drive specific projects such as a local science or research park. More than 200 members are currently registered on the Eastern Cape Regional Innovation Forum’s database.
The forum we are launching today, the Southern Gauteng Regional innovation forum will be the second forum to be launched and we hope that it will also benefit interested parties by promoting the transfer and sharing of knowledge and skills needed to improve productivity and employment.
During the last financial year the DST has supported the Vaal University of Technology to act as the secretariat for the Southern Gauteng Regional innovation forum.
The DST has also invested R1.5 million rand through VUT to develop an extensive feasibility and business plan for this science park and we will almost certainly later hear from VUT on the outcomes of the planning process for this facility.
We are planning to start further Regional Innovation Forums in all provinces. We will continue to assist and support our higher-education institutions during the planning and concept-development stages of innovation incubators and science parks. By learning from these developments, we will create appropriate frameworks for future innovation infrastructure to come.
This planned facility at Educity, together with the Southern Gauteng Regional Innovation Forum, can play the role of a bridge between the informal economy around Sebokeng and the formal industry and academic institutions around this area.
I believe it can be the knowledge conduit that can bring some socio-economic change to deprived communities within this area of Gauteng and even beyond provincial boundaries.
In closing, it is worthwhile remembering that Gauteng accounts for half of our national R&D, which amounted to R11 billion in 2008-09 and 1.45% of Gauteng’s GDP.
This means that most of South Africa’s R&D infrastructure is located in Gauteng and that its R&D per capita spend is double the national average and well ahead of the Western Cape.
Up here most of R&D is for business services (including engineering), followed by computer and related services and then followed by financial services.
I see we still have a number of speakers on the agenda and so I will hand over to them. I hope that the stakeholders within the Southern Gauteng region will continue to collaborate and work together to create a prosperous society for all.
I thank you.