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Innovator taps over R220 000 in support from CSIR grassroots programme

Nkosana Madi has been able to tap over R220 000 in training and support from a Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) programme that aims to help innovators from townships and rural areas.

Madi (pictured above), who is from KwaThema near Springs in Gauteng, has developed a motorised bike, the Fla’va. He says the CSIR, through its Grassroots Innovators Programme, is helping to fund an auto-CAD and design-modelling course he is undertaking.

Since July last year the CSIR has also provided him with an engineer to advise him on the kinds of tools he should use to manufacture the bike and has given him advice on intellectual property (IP) protection for his product.

Madi currently builds the bikes himself from his home, in partnership with a designer.

He sells his bike, which is equipped with a two litre fuel tank which allows it to travel for 90 km under power, for R6 000. So far he has sold just four bikes, but he is now in talks with various parties to try and land a big order so that he can get funding to set up a workshop.

The best place for any innovator to start, he says, is right where they live, using what things are available to one. “The best way to innovate is to ask what are the problems,” he adds.

‘Grassroots Innovation Programme has helped four innovators since March 2016’

The CSIR’s Grassroots Innovation Programme has been running since March last year — initially as a pilot initiative to February — and is aimed at supporting innovators who don’t have formal education or access to formal facilities.

“We’re finding that the grassroots innovators are innovating based on challenges in their areas,” says Ashley Bhugwandin, who heads the CSIR’s technology localisation and implementation unit.

The programme, which is modelled on a similar initiative run by India’s National Innovation Foundation, provides assistance such as design support, prototyping and testing and business development to innovators. The CSIR also aims to link those it supports to commercial partners, who can then help develop their respective products further.

So far the programme has supported three youth and one 50-year-old man through the programme, but Bhugwandin says this number is expected to grow to 10 innovators within the next four months.

The programme has a budget of about R2.5-million for the year, which Bhugwandin expects will grow to R3-million in the next year. At an average of about R200 000 to R300 000 per project, the programme is likely support about 12 projects each year, he says.

The programme also has a portal on which innovators can register their ideas. So far, 150 innovators have registered their ideas on the portal.

Projects are chosen for support after being shortlisted by a steering committee made up of the Department of Science and Technology, the Technology Innovation Agency, National Youth Development Agency and the Department of Trade and Industry, says Bhugwandin.

He says to promote the programme, particularly in rural areas, the CSIR has run roadshows on the programme since November last year in a number of provinces, including KwaZulu-Natal, the Eastern Cape and Mpumalanga. The agency’s next roadshow is planned for Limpopo.

Featured image: Nkosana Madi (Supplied)

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