CSIR Conference focuses on SMME programmes

Delegates heard about the growth of and challenges in the industries relating to science and innovation at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research’s sixth biannual conference in Pretoria.

CSIR conference SMME
Besides various panel discussions, the CSIR Conference features live demonstrations of CSIR-developed technologies that are benefitting an array of sectors from mining to energy, to aerospace and defence. (Image: CSIR, Facebook)

Melissa Javan
A total of 181 new permanent jobs were created through 22 enterprises that were supported by the Biomanufacturing Industry Development Centre (BIDC) programme of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), said Daniel Visser, a speaker at the biannual CSIR Conference.

The two-day event, taking place on 5 and 6 October, was held at the CSIR International Convention Centre in Pretoria. The theme of the conference was “Ideas that work for industrial development”.

CSIR CEO Dr Thulani Dlamini said the event celebrated some of the work the council undertook with public and private sector partners to contribute to industrial development.

Developing biomanufacturing in South Africa

The BIDC programme had supported many small-, medium and micro enterprises (SMMEs) in South Africa, mostly in Gauteng, said Visser, research and development strategy manager at the CSIR. “The majority of the SMMEs we’ve supported are black owned.”

They include OptimusBio, which creates an industrial biologics product; Mamoa Trading Enterprise, which creates a cosmetics product; Sliek, which creates lactose-free products; and Golden Goose, which creates a traditional beverage product.

Since 2013, the BIDC has trained 72 interns – between 20 and 25 interns per year. The programme has also created 201 temporary jobs and 20 permanent staff are employed. A total of 75 new products were transferred to enterprises.

According to the council, the programme provides access to infrastructure, expertise and skilled human capital. The initiative is in line with the Department of Trade and Industry’s Industrial Policy Action Plan and the Department of Science and Technology’s Bioeconomy Strategy.

Biomanufacturing is a small sector, said Visser, although it crossed a lot of industries.

South Africa’s global competitiveness

The UK and South Africa had a lot of similarities when it came to the bioeconomy sector, said Kris Wadrop, director of industrial biotechnology and biorefining in that country’s Centre for Process Innovation.

He was speaking in the “Industrial development of SMMEs in the bioeconomy sector” session. “What Christo (Fourie) of the Industrial Development Corporation said is applicable to the UK. We seem to be learning and going through the same experiences all over the world.”

His company was a bit like the CSIR. “It’s not as big as the CSIR, but it is has four business units.”

Wadrop advised that collaborations were very important when it came to bringing an idea to product, and then the product to market. “You need a lot of different skills to get that product to the market. If an SMME only has two staff members, it’s going to be difficult to finish the project (if you do not collaborate with others).”

Visser and Wadrop were also on the panel discussion “Local pharmaceutical manufacturing: what can South Africa’s competitive advantage be?”.

On that panel, Makekele Sono-Tladi, managing director of Elvema Nutrition, said SMMEs needed to master the route to commercialisation of a product. “You need to educate the consumers before you even take the product to the (shop’s) shelves. You need to introduce the product to the people.

“This industry can be booming if we just master the commercialisation route.”

Regarding funding, Dr Sibongile Gumbi, founder and CEO of iVac Biotherapeutics, said: “Be strategic in how you are going to get funding. We were fortunate enough to get funding from a private investor.”

Ross Norton, chairman of the chemical company SA Bioproducts, said the “Overseas is better than local” mindset of consumers should be addressed. “We should challenge local people who don’t want to buy local goods.”

Source: Council for Scientific and Industrial Research

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