Being audacious has its benefits

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Recently, there has been a lot of buzz around our Saldanha Bay Innovation Campus.

And it’s not just talk: the campus was host to the DroneTech Innovation Challenge. On 30 September we staged the “grand finale” as 10 businesses pitched their drone solutions to various challenges and ideation for the best use of the technology in the future. The level of ingenuity, preparation, innovation and creative thinking was breathtaking.

Participants ranged from early-stage start-ups in the idea phase to scalable start-ups. The submissions were judged depending on the value proposition, target-market traction, business model, competitive advantage, team composition and presentation. Bonus points were given to participants with solutions that can be feasible and scalable to the marine and energy sectors. The winners were announced as follows.

In the ideation phase, the winner was Taurus Energy, providing environmental compliance auditing and data management. Runner-up was Luminous Marketing & Branding, providing marketing services including drone aerial photography for clients in the property and events space.

In the scale-up phase the winner was DeltaScan, providing structural audits through digital twins and advanced survey applications. Runner-up was Autonosky partnering with specific industries to develop unique drone solutions for their operations. In third place was RBI DroneScan, which provides aerial data solutions and professional remote piloted aircraft services catering for key industries such as telecommunications, civil engineering and petrochemical.

Fourth place went to Wipo Wireless Power for wireless power solutions for robotics (drones, AGV, ROV).

It reminded me of how, some time ago, I described the vision of the Innovation Campus as “audacious”. That bold vision has become a reality. When we established it we could see traditional engineering was changing. When the pandemic swept across the country, we understood this change would happen a lot faster.

We needed to respond to the rapidly shifting market trends and, even better, offer our clients a place – an innovation cluster – where such innovative solutions could be tried and tested.

The Innovation Campus brings people together to look at and resolve challenging problems in the energy and maritime sector using technology and innovative ideas. This gathering includes our existing tenants at the Saldanha Bay Industrial Development Zone, academia, and the private and public sector, who jointly seek the wherewithal to generate new entrepreneurial activities.

Such activities will drive the innovation process through a series of incubation and acceleration programmes to provide sustainable growth and advances for our local energy and maritime research capabilities.

Where once we talked about a centre where modern-day shipping, manufacturing and engineering challenges would be solved through innovative technology solutions and place us at the centre of technological and engineering excellence, this was now being put into action.

In August, the Innovation Campus held two Entrepreneurship Bootcamps, the first of which introduced industry experts in drone technology who shared their experiences and knowledge with aspiring entrepreneurs to help them get airborne. The second focused on design thinking principles and the skills and tools needed to start and scale a business. This led up to the DroneTech Innovation Pitch Challenge and the grand finale.

One of the experts we spoke to was Victor Radebe of Mzanzi Aerospace Technologies. He had a lot of solid advice for eager entrepreneurs but what struck me was what he said about creating the right ecosystem, why it was so necessary and what it takes to flourish. He drew a comparison with the “entrepreneurship culture of a metropolis” such as Silicon Valley.

He said young people didn’t go to Silicon Valley hoping to get a job at IBM or Google or even be in a start-up that would be bought. What they wanted was the excitement of a start-up and to be part of its growth. In his experience, most young South Africans see working in a start-up as a “stop-gap measure until they find a job, and as soon as they find the job, they’re out of there.”

Hearing that, I asked myself why is that? As he rightly points out, there are several reasons for this, but the issues of opportunity, access, privilege and equity, I think, are crucial. The Innovation Campus seeks to create the right mix of “environmental” factors which will allow an entrepreneurial culture to germinate and flourish. If we get that right, then there is every possibility that Saldanha Bay will become the playground for innovative technology, smart manufacturing and engineering excellence. And in the end create the jobs that flow from profitable companies in the SBIDZ and provide opportunities that ensure the prosperity of all who live and work here.

That may sound audacious, but we have a track record of making such visions a reality.

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