South Africa has moved up four places to fiftieth position in the World Economic Forum (WEF) Global Competitiveness Report 2011-12, out of 142 countries surveyed.
South Africa remains the highest-ranked country in sub-Saharan Africa and is placed second among its fellow Brics economies, namely Brazil, Russia, India and China.
With regard to innovation, however, South Africa is ranked last among them, says Department of Trade and Industry Support Programme for Industrial Innovation (SPII) senior specialist Dr Ntokozo Mthembu.
Further, according to the WEF report, South Africa was placed 111th in terms of the availability of scientists and 105th with regard to technological readiness.
South Africa ranks poorly on the global scale of innovation and, while there is some innovation under way, there is significant opportunity for growth in this sector, says Mthembu, citing SPII as one of the pathways innovative South Africans can take to develop their ideas to further the development of new technologies in South Africa.
SPII provides financial assistance to new innovators in the form of grants and it guides them through the product-development process.
“SPII assists in bridging the gap between conceptualising a product and marketing it. To engage with the market, you first need to have a physical product to show retailers,” says Mthembu.
SPII considers four main criteria for prospective grant recipients. These comprise tech- nological innovation, which indicates the product is unlike anything else on the market; economic merit, which requires the applicant to have a realistic plan in mind to prove that the product has the potential to sell well; management capability, which indicates that the incumbent has the relevant skills to develop the product; and financial ability, which is evident in the incumbent having already saved money to contribute to the development of the product, over and above the funding that he or she hopes to receive from the programme.
This not only gauges the applicant’s level of commitment, but also ensures that the project gets under way, as SPII only subsidises between 50% and 85% of the product’s total development cost.
SPII funding is available to all South African enterprises, including registered companies and individuals representing themselves.
However, Mthembu emphasises that individuals will be considered only if their products show definite potential.
“We want to be sure it is a significant technological advancement and that the product is something we can be proud of,” he says.