University to support SMEs, innovators

THE National University of Science and Technology (NUST) has reaffirmed its commitment to continue supporting Small to Medium Enterprises (SMEs) and innovators to commercialise and upscale their works so that they become viable and contribute significantly to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

In an interview on the side lines of the inaugural NUST Research and Innovation Expo 2021, the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Mqhele Dlodlo, said as part of the University mandate under Education 5.0, NUST will continue supporting SMEs and innovators to commercialise their goods and services.

“We have a mandate just like all universities under Education 5.0 to focus on innovation and industrialisation. Those are two additional focal points which are being added to community services, teaching and research. Within innovation, NUST has the additional mandate of training and helping SMEs and innovators to commercialise and upscale their works so that they become viable and significant contributors to the national gross domestic product (GDP),” said Prof Dlodlo.

He said there were a lot of bright people trying to make a difference with what they can afford on a small-scale and the expo exposed such ideas to experts so they could see the commercial potential in what they could come in.

Prof Dlodlo said the University will take on board some of the SMEs and innovators, incubate them and teach them some of the tricks they need to succeed out there as they set up their businesses and generate markets.

“In the past we were not involved in the commercialisation aspect of the innovations, but now under Education 5.0 the primary purpose of this is identifying commercial potential and intellectual property in these things. Then select a sample of those that we can support as a university and help them to venture into serious business,” he said.

Prof Dlodlo said the innovation and business development wing of the university got money from the Government last year, which contributed towards the fight against Covid-19 pandemic and the funds generated from that were now being used to support some of the innovations.

Prof Dlodlo said the funds were also being used to support SMEs that were starting businesses based on the laboratory outputs of NUST and these created niche markets for the university as in most cases they would provide new products and services. He commended SMEs using local resources from their natural heritage and creating various products from herbs, grasses and trees such as the baobab.

“There is just a lot of heritage that is being under-utilised. You may appreciate that you have grown up eating foreign fruits and yet our fruits are now just being eaten by animals out there in the bushes. These have very good sources of nutrition, but we have just have never commercialised them.

“This is the time that there is a great awakening that those fruits we are now buying from the shops and importing into the country can also be grown locally and yet much more cheaply. After then create products that can be commercialised,” said Prof Dlodlo.

The Pro-Vice Chancellor for Innovation and Business Development, Dr Engineer William Goriwondo, said the expo was creating awareness and giving a chance to those that would want to innovate so that they could do so in a safe environment where they can be helped to protect their intellectual property and then go into business.

“Innovative ideas can be taken further and incubated into the Innovation Hub where we make life size prototypes, which will then prove the concept as well as identify the markets to which any such innovation could be utilised,” he said.

Dr Eng Goriwondo said as Government had a thrust of developing an upper middle class economy by 2030, the thrust could be achieved through action which required innovators to look at innovations that solve the country’s problems.

“So this platform has been created for us to partner and collaborate with all innovators within the university and also those outside to improve and aspire towards achieving Vision 2030. At the innovation hub we have aspects of creativity, innovation, and problem resolution,” said Dr Eng Goriwondo.

The inaugural annual Expo attracted a total of 32 exhibitors who showcased their innovative products and services.

A trained biology teacher Mr Enock Paradzai presented a mobile laboratory, which he called a Bus Lab.

According to Mr Paradzai the lab, which could be assembled and dissembled in any set up, is ideal for secondary schools that cannot afford to build labs.

Female inventors also responded to the invitation as they came and presented they are products.

Fedeliah Mangena, the founder of Imvelo, showcased products that are manufactured using herbs. There was dye for clothes made with bird plum (umnyii), shampoo made with aloe plant, mosquito repellents and narrow-pod elephant root (intolwane) which helps with colics.

Bulawayo Leather Cluster attended the Expo and showcased shoes which are made out of goat skin.

The Secretary of Bulawayo Leather Cluster, Mr Fungai Zvinondiramba, said they came to NUST to see if they could be helped with the manufacturing process.

“We can start with the manufacturing process; the components that we use such as soles, can be produced by NUST. The University can also manufacture moulds for belts and it would be easier if we were going to get some of these components at NUST because we can actually engrave our names onto the components,” said Mr Zvinondiramba.

He said the Bulawayo Leather Cluster is working with a lot of young people whom they are training and grooming. – Sunday News/NUST.

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