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Innovation hub gives "disruptive technology" a lift

An innovation hub which caters for both start-up and existing businesses has been opened in Port Elizabeth.
Wayne Oosthuizen
Wayne Oosthuizen

"We are looking for innovators with disruptive technology - something which will give manufacturing in South Africa a competitive global advantage," says Wayne Oosthuizen, managing director of Engeli Enterprise Development, which is heading up Propella - the name of the hub.

Incubate, accelerate and graduate

Propella's main areas of focus will be renewable energy generation, energy efficiency and related technologies, advanced manufacturing and supply chain optimisation.Creative industries are also being catered for. It will help innovative companies to access finance and markets and will also provide business support and mentorship.

"The name 'Propella' captures what the centre strives to achieve - propellers disrupt the air or water around them while pulling or pushing the craft forward. "We incubate, accelerate and graduate," says Oosthuizen.

Seed funding has been provided by the Industrial Development Corporation, as well as General Motors, BASF and the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU). "Another first for Propella is that it is a partnership between government, the private sector and a university. It is what is known as the 'triple helix' - which combines the strengths of all three," says Oosthuizen. The board consists of two representatives from the small business sector, three from industry, and two from the university.

Already disrupting the marketplace through innovative technology

Based on the successful Manufacturing Advisory Centre (MAC) model, Propella is based in a funky high-tech building overlooking Port Elizabeth harbour. It is equipped to handle both small-scale manufacturing and information technology hubs. The first two companies in the centre are already disrupting the marketplace through their innovative technology.

One has designed a low-cost heat pump, and the other is replacing zinc in rubber mixtures with nano- particles. "They are already talking to each other - and we will see more breakthroughs soon," says Oosthuizen.

Empowering suppliers, promoting entrepreneurship

Ian Nicholls, president and managing director of General Motors Sub-Saharan Africa Operations said: "We both want to have more empowered local suppliers in place who are technically competent and competitive, and who are able to deliver in line with global requirements. "Through Propella's roll-out of strategic incubation and accelerative initiatives, local businesses will be set up to succeed."

Joan-Maria Garcia-Girona, BASF vice-president and head of Business Center South Africa and Sub-Sahara adds: "Over the past 150 years BASF has always had an innovative and collaborative culture and, to this day, continues to work closely with university researchers, scientists and other innovative thinkers who have provided the cornerstones for our research. "Through supporting the Propella programme we aim to promote emerging and technology-oriented entrepreneurs who will then have the potential to make a significant contribution to the local economy".

"There is a real need to support and grow local manufacturing businesses. The NMMU has a number of new innovative companies that need support but the need is broader than the NMMU and that is where Propella plays a role," says Jaci Barnett, director of innovation at the NMMU and CEO of Innovolve.

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