Prof Christian Happi, the director of the African Centre of Excellence for Genomics of Infectious Diseases, opens a tank in the laboratory during an inspection of facility at the centre located at the Redeemer's University in Ede, southwestern Nigeria. Picture: PIUS UTOMI EKPEI / AFP
Prof Christian Happi, the director of the African Centre of Excellence for Genomics of Infectious Diseases, opens a tank in the laboratory during an inspection of facility at the centre located at the Redeemer's University in Ede, southwestern Nigeria. Picture: PIUS UTOMI EKPEI / AFP

In this edition of Business Day Spotlight, we’re looking at how university based science and technology businesses are finding ways to make money from their ideas. 

Host Mudiwa Gavaza is joined by Wayne Stocks, partner at the University Technology Fund (UTF) and Prof Resia Pretorius from BioCODE. 

Stocks and Pretorius begin by giving some background about their respective organisations. 

The UTF, which specialises in funding startups in universities, has raised R230m, and has so far invested in five companies that have developed technology for use in biosciences, biotechnology, health and medical diagnostics, and energy industries.

Business Day Spotlight host Mudiwa Gavaza. Picture: DOROTHY KGOSI.
Business Day Spotlight host Mudiwa Gavaza. Picture: DOROTHY KGOSI.

UTF’s investors include the SA SME Fund, Technology Innovation Agency, Small Enterprise Funding Agency, the General Partner, and co-investment from the University of Stellenbosch and University of Cape Town.

UTF has invested in about six businesses so far, including BioCODE. 

BioCODE Technologies is a technology start-up working on preventative care and solutions through a team of engineers, physiologists and biochemists. 

Stocks says billions of rand are spent each year funding university research projects, but little has traditionally been done to create viable business models from those ideas, discoveries and findings. In developed countries it is not unusual for university researchers to create businesses from their ideas. This is the problem that the UTF is hoping to solve. 

Pretorius, a professor at the University of Stellenbosch, says there’s a lot of work to be done to change mindsets around how to monetise research by academics. Where academics typically look to publish their findings in journals or similar platforms, she and her team now work to develop patents where they think it is viable. 

She says working with the UTF has helped them to learn about business, how to access funding and what it takes to make an idea commercially worthwhile.

This discussion also touches on the mandate of the UTF, projects that BioCODE is working on, collaboration between different universities, the ongoing debate around intellectual property and plans for the future. 

For more episodes, click here.

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 Business Day Spotlight is a MultimediaLIVE production.

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