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Academics honoured for turning research into commercial enterprises

- Wits University

Researchers make an impact on society, not just with research and teaching, but also in turning their work into much-needed products and services.

Several wits academics were recently honoured for turning their research into enterprises that have possible commercial or economic value for the South African society.

Wits academics received prizes for being first-time inventors through the Wits Technology Transfer Office; being the most prolific inventors; being international inventors and for being first-time innovators at the Wits Innovators Forum, held at the Wits Club on 15 September.

Speaking at the event, Ela Romanowska, director of Technology Transfer at the Wits Technology Transfer Office said that while the core mandate of university is really about teaching, academic pursuit and research, which is often aimed at improving the knowledge and skills of graduates, Wits Enterprise (the Wits Technology Transfer Office) does, is to add a further layer of impact into the economy, and that is by turning some of that research into actual products and services that we can use.

Quoting Lita Nelsen former head of MIT’s Technology Licensing Office, Romanowska said technology transfer is not just about the money.

“The driver should be about what impact you can create, not just what financial returns you can retain,” she said. “Only 16% of academic institutions in America generate sufficient income from tech transfer to cover the cost of the tech transfer office.”

Keynote speakers, Professor Craig Sheridan of the School of Chemical and Metallurgical Engineering; Professor Luke Chimuka of the Department of Chemistry and Professor Bavesh Kana of the Centre of Excellence for Biomedical TB Research all shared their thoughts on the technology transfer of their research, with Sheridan speaking about lessons learnt in cross-disciplinary development; Chimuka speaking about whether a good researcher can also be a good entrepreneur and Kana speaking of lessons learnt from Biomimicry in developing technology to test for tuberculosis.

Romanowska said that it takes up to 10 years of sustained investment to create a robust self-sustained tech transfer capability. According to Wits’ Intellectual Property rules, 70% of the income that accrues to the University is shared with the inventors.

For more information on Wits Entreprise, go here.