Power management multinational ABB on Wednesday signed a research and development and innovation partnership agreement with the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) with the view to support and tap into digital innovation to augment its own research, development and engineering work, said ABB South Africa MD Leon Viljoen.
The partnership with Wits' digital innovation hub Tshimologong Precinct, led by Professor Barry Dwolatzky, aims to support students, entrepreneurs and innovators with the view to leveraging their innovative technology, to incorporate it into ABB's solutions or to include start-up companies into its global supply chain.
"In the midst of the fourth industrial revolution, entrepreneurs can become a supply chain partner with a global organisation such as ABB. We see our partnership with the precinct as a way of providing a place where entrepreneurs and innovators with good ideas can come to get assistance to incubate the ideas and to develop them to form sustainable businesses," said Viljoen.
"The centre and participation of companies such as ABB are extremely important to turn the ideas into sustainable businesses that we, as ABB, can tap into, and which will also create businesses and jobs for the youth of South Africa," he said at the signing ceremony in Sandton.
ABB has significant formal relationships and partnerships with engineering and technical training organisations in the territories in which it operates and supports the communities it works in as well, with the overarching aim of promoting sustainability of ABB, its operations, partners and the societies it functions within.
The ABB Education Trust, which supports mainly disadvantaged black and female engineering students to complete their basic degrees and diplomas, has already sponsored 15 students in South Africa and is fully sponsoring (including tuition, accommodation and vacation work at ABB) a further 15 students this year.
The ABB Education Trust has had a long relationship with the Wits Foundation to identify students to sponsor and it aims to grow the partnership, ABB broad-based black economic empowerment and transformation manager Versha Rowjee said at the signing ceremony.
Wits acting vice chancellor and vice principal Professor Tawana Kupe noted that the partnership was also accompanied by a R500 000 donation by ABB to the Wits Foundation, emphasising that the partnership was an affirmation of the idea of supporting and stimulating innovation and entrepreneurship.
"It affirms the vision that providing a space for technical and technological innovation and its application to solve real-life problems is worth investing in," he said.
Wits, as a research-intensive university, is proud of the Tshimologong Precinct because it demonstrates that it is at the forefront of new developments and applying its thorough research output, which it is known for, to the most suitable applications.
"The Tshimologong Precinct is about more than excitement about technology, and is about turning the possibility and potential promised by technology into reality, which is not possible without our partners, such as ABB," he added.
"Digital innovation is a broad concept that cuts across all the normal silos and industry verticals. Innovation is impacting on all the old industry verticals. The question is where the innovators and entrepreneurs can go to get support – technical support and financial support – to develop their ideas and, if it is good, to launch a business around the idea or to license the technology," said Dwolatzky on Wednesday.
"This question of where young entrepreneurs in Johannesburg can go for support is what worried me and drove me to look at digital innovation in Johannesburg in 2014. However, the question was not about a space alone, but about an ecosystem. With the precinct, we now have a wonderful ecosystem with many existing partners and new partners, like ABB, who can provide greater support for local innovators."
"The continent is ideally positioned to take advantage of new technologies. Training and preparing the next generation of engineers is pivotal for the continent," said Viljoen.
Kupe agreed and noted that, for developing regions left behind by the first, second and third industrial revolutions, the fourth industrial revolution could stimulate economic development, but only if the skills and ongoing training, research and application at a sufficiently large scale of the possibilities presented by digital technologies were in place.
The memorandum of understanding was signed at the Sandton Convention Centre, alongside the ABB Customer World Africa conference.