UNDP and DSI launch new fund to support university and TVET tech entrepreneurs

March 26, 2024

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in South Africa has teamed up with the Department of Science and Innovation, launching an innovation and commercialisation fund, the Higher Education Innovation Fund (HEIF). 

The HEIF aims to embolden budding innovators and tech entrepreneurs within South African higher education institutions. It strives to cultivate a vibrant culture of entrepreneurship and innovation within the post-secondary education sector, focusing on fostering job opportunities and the establishment of thriving enterprises.

Unveiling the fund on 25 March 2024, the Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation, Dr Blade Nzimande, said the vision is to grow the fund to R1 billion and he invited private sector companies and other funding institutions to help achieve this objective.

The fund aims to solve challenges in the innovation ecosystem such as a lack of skilled student tech entrepreneurs who can develop and commercialise competitive innovative products, a lack of entrepreneurial support and networks at universities and colleges, and limited exposure to opportunities, mentoring and coaching. 

"These challenges are more acute in TVET colleges and historically disadvantaged universities," said the Minister.

The HEIF will support students through general entrepreneurship, ideation and design thinking, business model development, validation, commercialisation, market access, intellectual property protection and investor readiness. 

UNDP Resident Representative, Mr Maxwell Gomera, said the fund will foster a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship within universities, as educational institutions are a reservoir of untapped potential that could address many challenges in Africa, from health to technology.

"It is imperative that we build robust ecosystems that support these innovations.  This means creating collaborative networks that include government, the private sector and academia, ensuring innovators have access to the mentorship, capital and platforms they need to thrive," stressed Mr Gomera. 

The HEIF will be administered through calls for proposals from interested parties with suitable programmes and expertise who will work with universities and technical and vocational education and training (TVET) colleges.

In the next two months, the DSI, UNDP, and the Technology Innovation Fund as a co-funder, will launch two calls for proposals for interested parties with the necessary expertise to apply for funding to work with universities and TVET colleges.