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Innovation leads the way

innovation topinside Prospective entrepreneurs were also able to pitch their ideas to a panel of judges

The Innovation Summit hosted by the Industrial Development Corporation was a vibrant, interactive event this year. Hundreds of school pupils attended, donning crazy hats and masks to have their pictures taken with the latest photographic technology, and mime artists were among the entertainment on offer.

The dozens of stalls exhibited a selection of fascinating and innovative gadgets at the IDC offices in Sandton from 27 to 29 August, sparking the children’s imagination and helping them learn new things.

Teacher Danie Heymans had a constant circle of eager youngsters at his table as he manipulated various robotic figures made with Lego building blocks. He explained that he and a group of teachers had formed Hands On Technologies, the licence provider in sub-Saharan Africa for Lego, the Danish company that makes the well-known toy building blocks.

Together with his colleagues, Heymans offers extramural classes in robotics. The children learn to programme the robots on computers and then watch their “creatures” come to life. “Usually pupils can’t wait to leave when the bell rings after the lesson but with the robotics classes, they don’t want to leave,” said Heymans. Some of the classes are sponsored – for example, by Swiss bank USB and Lego – while in other cases, the schools buy the technology and present the tuition themselves. Regional and national competitions are organised, and finalists have the chance to attend the World Robotics Olympiad, to be held this year in Jakarta, Indonesia in November.

An innovation that could change lives by bringing a livelihood to potential entrepreneurs is the eChaja, a solar-powered cellphone charger with sockets for recharging six cellphone batteries at a time. Chris van Zyl, the operations director of eChaja, explained that the machine was fully portable and could be set up quickly and easily at a shop, market, kiosk or even a homestead where, for a fee, customers could have their cellphone batteries charged. Two small solar panels are enough to keep the eChaja going and it can also be attached to two light bulbs to provide light.

There is no doubt many more people in South Africa would be making innovative products if they had the funds and the opportunity. The A2B Movement, established by former occupational therapist Vivienne Schultz, helps destitute people by offering them a 12-month entrepreneurial scholarship programme. As they complete the course, acquiring technical skills and learning to change their mindset, they work with paper waste, turning it into décor, shopfitting and building products. You can buy the products, including the Re:vive décor range online.

Innovation winners

StratFlex, the winner of the 2013 Design Indaba Innovation Award, was also represented. Visitors were intrigued by the company’s flatpack Skin armchair, which is adjustable to a single or three-seater. The Impi model is an all-purpose, stackable chair and both items are made with the patented StratFlex technology that allows them to flex and conform to the body shape and weight.

Patented products and intellectual property need to be properly managed and protected and the National Intellectual Property Management Office (Nipmo), a sub-programme within the Department of Science and Technology, was on hand to provide advice. Nipmo was established to help recipients of funding from a government funding agency to conduct research and development, assess and report on the benefit that society had received from the publically financed research and development, it said.

The Sasol platform was also very busy, with prospective entrepreneurs pitching their ideas to a panel of judges. Ideas ranged from snow skis that were safer and faster to a Linked-In type service for students. The pitchers were in the hot seat as the judges grilled them on every point of the process and how they would market their services.

As one of the judges noted, an inventor should look for practical solutions to everyday problems – such as the wire candle holder Wikus van Niekerk made after reading about a shack fire caused by a candle falling over. “Look for ideas that touch your heart,” he said, and the summit was full of those.

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