SA sets up agency to bridge gap between research and commercialisation

29th October 2010 By: Terence Creamer - Creamer Media Editor

South Africa's new Technology Innovation Agency (TIA), which has been formed to support the commercialisation of local research and development (R&D), was formally launched on Friday.

The orgainisation has been formed through the merger of seven smaller funding agencies that fell under the Department of Science and Technology.

Newly appointed CEO Simphiwe Duma, an engineer by training, said TIA was "open for business" and would prioritise the commercialisation of innovative technologies in the areas of health, biotechnology, agriculture, energy, manufacturing and information and communication technology (ICT).

Speaking at the launch function in Midrand, Science and Technology Minister Naledi Pandor said that TIA, which has a current budget of R410-million, will focus on the conversion of basic R&D into saleable products and services.

She called on the TIA to interrogate the current R&D archives and determine what steps were necessary to commercialise the most promising contents within that archive.

A direct link was drawn between the TIA and the 'New Growth Path', which aims to facilitate the creation of 500 000 jobs and to reduce poverty, which "will come to nothing" without an enhancement in the domestic innovation system.

South Africa's investment into R&D rose to 0,93% of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2008/9 to R21-billion, from 0,76% in 2006/7. However, it was still well short of the 2014 target of 1,5% of GDP.

Pandor urged the TIA to form a stronger partnership with the business and banking sectors to bolster investment in innovation and the commercialisation of R&D.

"The TIA must also act as a catalyst for stimulating a stronger venture capital industry in this country by interacting with local and venture capital firms to spearhead the commercialisation of our technology in global markets," Pandor said.

TIA chairperson Dr Mamphela Ramphele said that the agency would strive to turn "the valley of death" between research and product commercialisation into one of "resurrection".