On 13-14 September 2018, 10 years after the first South African Innovation Summit (SAIS), the event again showcased some of the country’s most exciting new innovations, drawing vital commercial investment and political support with their potential to help kickstart growth in our recovering economy.

Leading fixture

The SAIS, a collaboration between industry, government and academia, is a prominent fixture on the country’s innovation calendar.

Born from a lack of opportunities to commercialise new technologies, it has provided a notable platform for introducing start-ups to investors and garnering government buy-in.

This year, a series of ‘pitching dens’ saw entrepreneurs presenting their ideas and prototypes to investors in a format styled after the popular TV show, ‘Dragon’s Den’. Here are some of the brave dragon slayers:

Finding female bio-entrepreneurs

The FemBioBiz Acceleration Programme is an AU/NEPAD/Southern Africa Network for Biosciences (SANBio) initiative.

At SAIS 2018, 32 female bio-entrepreneurs and students from 10 SADC countries pitched to investors at the FemBioBiz pitching den. The event provided a deal-making platform, giving female bio-entrepreneurs a chance to access financing.

The best performers received prizes from the SAB Foundation, Merck and other partners to help move their businesses forward, as well as a trip to Europe’s leading start-up event, Slush 2018, in Helsinki, Finland.

Chance to clean up

The Global Cleantech Innovation Programme for SMMEs in South Africa (GCIP-SA) is part of a global initiative addressing energy, environmental and economic challenges through clean technology innovation and support for small businesses and start-ups.

Focus areas include energy efficiency, renewable energy, waste beneficiation (including e-waste), water efficiency and green buildings, green transportation and environmental protection (air, sea and land). This year, 44 participants competed.

I have a product, now what?

The Inventors Garage is an online competition for early-stage, pre-commercial inventors and innovators to show a demo, working prototype or product (from proven concept up to early commercialisation stage).

The competition lets innovators showcase their inventions, compete for early-stage financial support, explore potential markets and share experiences with others. One-on-one sessions with judges helped products survive the worst possible encounters with customers.

At this year’s SAIS, 24 finalists participated.

Lot of pitching and matching

SAIS also provided an open lounge throughout the duration of the summit, for inventors and investors to meet and match ideas to funding.

In addition, a regional competition saw top start-ups pitching their businesses to judges in the run-up to the Start-up World Cup in Silicon Valley (17 May 2019).

If anyone needed a reminder, the wealth of innovations showcased at this vibrant event is indication enough that innovation is alive and well in SA, and that it has the potential to create the sustainable growth we need in these tough, environmentally fraught times.