R150m University Technology Fund a first for Africa

12th February 2020 By: Tasneem Bulbulia - Creamer Media Reporter

Stellenbosch University (SU) and the University of Cape Town are coinvesting through a newly established R150-million University Technology Fund (UTF), set up by the SA SME Fund in its endeavour to partner with South African universities to commercialise the technologies and business ideas that arise from these universities.

Investment holding company Stocks & Strauss has been appointed as the fund manager.

“The UTF is a first for the African continent and we are incredibly proud to be part of what will be a significant game changer for universities wishing to bring their technologies to the market,” says SU Innovation and Business Development chief director Anita Nel.

Nel heads up Innovus, SU’s industry interaction platform for the commercialisation of the institution’s assets.

SU rector and Vice-Chancellor Professor Wim de Villiers indicates that Innovus has been instrumental in building a group of companies for the university and has also established the LaunchLab which supports entrepreneurs from both inside and outside the institution.

“This business incubator has helped establish SU as an internationally acclaimed entrepreneurial university. With entrepreneurship as one of our strategic focus areas, the UTF is of the utmost importance to us. Our financial investment alongside the UTF is our commitment to support and reward the innovative researchers who create intellectual property with strong commercial potential,” says De Villiers.

Nel and her team have been working for several years on developing a funding model for early seed capital for universities’ inventions and to gain support for it. Such funding is crucial for the initial development phase of early-stage technologies and to set up start-up ventures.

Funds focusing solely on investing in university technologies are mushrooming abroad, but the UTF is the first investment fund in Africa dedicated for university inventions.

It has a unique model that makes provision for a pre-seed funding allocation that empowers institutions’ technology transfer offices to support early stage technology development, building a solid pipeline of investable technologies for the UTF.

Championing this initiative, SA SME Fund CEO Ketso Gordhan says he is excited by the prospect of partnering with South African universities to commercialise technologies and business ideas arising across South African campuses. The next step is for the fund to be expanded to include more universities.

Meanwhile, corporate South Africa, through its investment in the SA SME Fund, will enable the financial inclusion of 10 000 South African spaza shops, and create more than 40 000 jobs, through its R25-million investment in fintech player A2Pay over the next ten years.

The fund’s investment is underpinned by A2Pay’s experience in driving social and financial inclusion by leveraging technology and innovation to enable spaza shops and stokvels to compete in the thriving township economy.

A2Pay, in partnership with the Jobs Fund, provides both access to capital and the backend technology systems that allow for the digitisation of small township business to drive growth and efficiency, financial oversight and transparency, management training, stock control and bulk buying.

A2Pay provides hands-on coaching to these local entrepreneurs, to improve the running of their businesses.

Importantly, the data generated by the A2Pay system provides input into credit decisions, and assists with identifying and mitigating repayment risk.