A set of Western Cape entrepreneurs have developed cutting-edge innovations which could lead to major advancements in the region’s agri-processing, health and bio-tech, and the manufacturing sectors.

Seven innovations in the Western Cape have been given a healthy boost, with grants of up to half a million Rands each from the second round of the Design Innovation Seed Fund (DISF).

The DISF is a project of the Craft and Design Institute (CDI) with investment and management funds respectively provided by the Technology Innovation Agency (TIA) and the Western Cape Department of Economic Development and Tourism. The Fund invited individuals and SMME’s in October 2016 to apply for grants with pre-revenue innovative technologies and tech-enabled ideas and products with the potential to positively impact the agri-processing, health and bio-tech, and the manufacturing sectors.

Launched in 2014 as a World Design Capital project, the first round of the DISF funding was allocated to develop innovative Western Cape ideas. The grants were used for a large range of activities, including developing prototypes, producing market samples, undertaking market research and investigating intellectual property rights. All of the beneficiaries made significant advances in developing their innovations and have moved to the next stages such as prototyping, doing market testing with clients, or going to market.

Erica Elk, Executive Director of the CDI, said that the DISF2 has a specific focus on assisting ground-breaking South African-developed designs and ideas in four priority areas.

“After a successful first round, where we learnt lots of valuable lessons, we decided that in our second round of funding we didn’t want to just support innovation for its own sake; but rather to align with national and provincial priority sectors that will support economic growth. This round of funding saw a specific focus on the agri-processing, health and bio-tech, and the manufacturing sectors. We had some incredible applications, 57 in total, and we narrowed this down through a thorough due diligence process, to a shortlist of those with the best potential. The sectors this round of the DISF focused on are all key sectors that can make a tremendous difference, not just to our economy and job creation, but also to people’s lives in terms of the medical devices being funded.”

Applicants to the DISF needed to show enough evidence of innovation in design, technology and/or its application; market appetite or sufficient evidence of market potential or competitive advantage; and a management team able to drive the process.

Elk added that the experience that the CDI has had on the first round of the DISF in 2014-16 demonstrated that the DISF funding and support can make a real impact on small businesses and help them turn ideas into reality.

“Access to finance for early-stage innovation is not easy to come by in South Africa. The DISF gives innovators and entrepreneurs in the Western Cape an opportunity to get the finance and support needed to get their ideas to the next stages. And it’s not just about financial support – using our 15 years of experience in supporting small businesses, the CDI plays an active role throughout the process, walking beside the innovators lending additional expertise when they needed it.”

The seven innovations selected for funding are:

  • OptiShunt by Liqid Medical – Glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness worldwide and affects over 60million people. Existing medical devices used to treat glaucoma are well known to have unpredictable outcomes, frequent complications and high failure rates. The OptiShunt is a highly innovative medical device which offers the first real hope for definitive prevention of blindness caused by glaucoma.
  • Water soluble liquid oak extracts by Oranet – Barrel aging wine provides an array of benefits ranging from colour stability to structure to flavours and aromas. Barrels are manufactured from premium quality French and American oak making the wine industry dependent on a semi renewable resource. This is reflected in the high prices of oak products and has led to the increased use of inferior alternative oak solutions such as oak staves, chips, powders, etc. These cheaper, less effective options sacrifice the quality of wine for cost effectiveness. Oranet is developing a liquid oak extract that will reduce and replace the use of conventional barrels.
  • DNABurn by Signal Biotechnology – has identified a novel approach to developing nutritional products, and has applied this approach to developing a stimulant free weight loss supplement. The product answers the need for a safe, natural, effective and evidence based supplement.
  • Fuel cell powered drones for delivery of sterile insects into export citrus by FlyH2 – a unique, prototype UAV sterile insect (SIT) release system combats the False Codling Moth (FCM), a pest that spoils fruits and which is a serious phytosanitary threat to 75% of SA’s export citrus markets, worth $1.4bn in 2014.
  • MicroPatch by Incitech – a one-step transdermal rapid test suitable for both professional and home use. It has been designed to make rapid testing easier and more accessible. All components of the test, including the blood collection mechanism and buffer delivery to the test sample, are integrated and contained in one device. This reduces the chance of user error and increases accuracy. The initial focus market of the MicroPatch is in HIV testing.
  • Suction Dissector by DISA Vascular – a new type of suction dissector device for blunt dissection of soft tissue with a novel dissection feature that provides an advantage over competitor devices.
  • SmartBlade Video Laryngoscope by SmartBlade – The SmartBlade harnesses smartphone technology to provide guided laryngoscopy, thus facilitating endotracheal intubation. Currently video laryngoscopy is cost prohibitive to the individual clinician, small clinic and ambulance service.

Mr Vusi Skosana, Acting Head of Seed Funds at TIA, said:

“CDI is well aligned to the TIA mandate to support the needs of innovative businesses and to grow the regions expertise in the design sector and thus the partnership with the CDI is aimed at identifying deserving enterprises and individuals in the technology innovation and design space that need funding to advance their ideas and technologies.”

He continued to encourage the successful seed fund recipients, those who would require further technology development funding to start discussions with TIA to know the requirements for the Technology Development Fund.

Alan Winde, Minister of Economic Opportunities, delivered the keynote address at the announcement ceremony this morning. Minister Winde said investing in innovators was one of the best ways to grow the economy.

“We believe that one of the best ways to grow our economy is to invest in our innovators. Far too many young businesses, and the jobs that would come with them, fall to the wayside due to a lack of finance. We launched this fund three years ago, in collaboration with like-minded partners, to give entrepreneurs from our region the kickstart they need to develop their ideas into reality.

“The winners of this year’s grants prove that the spirit of innovation is alive and well in the Western Cape. In line with Project Khulisa, our economic growth strategy, we targeted agri-processing innovations, as well as health and bio-tech ideas. The number of very good applications we received speaks to the wealth of globally competitive R&D currently being undertaken in our province. The Western Cape has become a hotbed for development. I would like to congratulate this year’s winners, and wish them well as they take their products to the next stage.