Last week the University Technology Fund (UTF) approved another investment into a university start-up company, taking the total amount invested since February to R28.1 million.
This is according to UTF co-founder Daniel Strauss, who said the fund has now approved seven investments into university companies this year – including from the University of Cape Town (UCT), the University of the Western Cape (UWC), and Stellenbosch University (SU).
These start-ups emerge from universities across the country and look to commercialise the research, technology, or innovations created through the institution.
Read: Relook free higher education for all, says OECD
The fund also received 80 investment proposals from 10 different South African universities, including the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits), the University of Pretoria (UP) and Rhodes University (RU).
It was officially set up on January 31 and is an initiative of the SA SME Fund, which made an original investment of R150 million. According to a press release, the fund has raised R230 million this year and is aiming to secure more.
“We are targeting R375 million by 31 July ,” said Strauss.
The UTF’s core aim is to commercialise technology and intellectual property from South African universities, and according to its website is the first of its kind on the continent.
For Strauss, this is because investment into university technology and intellectual property is a new asset class that has only just started to gain attention around the world.
“It’s new. Even Oxford [University], who is ranked as number one in the world, only started in 1999 and they only started with a £4 million fund,” he said.
BioCODE, a beneficiary of an approved UTF investment, is a biotechnology company that researches inflammatory diseases.
The spin-off company from SU created sensing technology which medical doctors can use to detect disease risk in patients, according to its website.
BioCODE research and designer engineer Este Burger said SU has filed patents for the company, which will be licensed to BioCODE.
“Within the next two years BioCODE plans to commercialise two novel inflammatory biomarker rapid tests for the early detection of disease and disease risk,” said Burger.
The UTF also approved an investment into Phagoflux, originating from SU, which aims to provide technology for autophagy monitoring for the pharmaceutical industry. Such technology will quantify and monitor diseases such as diabetes and cancer, said Ben Loos, CEO of Phagoflux.
“With the latest UTF investment, Phagoflux plans to refine its current prototype device, so that it can be introduced to the research and pharma space,” Loos said.
“The existing technology, which is a result of 10 years’ research, includes patents and a prototype device – that forms the basis and point of departure of our immediate work. We foresee however that new laboratory space will be required once our first device goes into production on a larger scale.”
The UTF has also made approved investments into Cape Bio Pharms from UCT, and Hyrax Biosciences from UWC.
This year, both companies have created technology that is used in Covid-19 testing kits nationally and internationally according to their websites.
Ela Romanowska, director of innovation support at Wits Enterprise, a company owned by Wits that focuses on the commercialisation of its intellectual property, said the university has established six spin-out companies in total.
“We have a pipeline of seven potential spin-offs which could be established in the next 12 months, dependent on raising funding, progress to establish key commercial partnerships, etcetera,” she said, adding that no companies had been established this year.
According to Romanowska, Wits has fewer spin-out companies compared with UCT or SU because they both started spinning out companies earlier. Wits’s first spin-out company was established in 2013.
Romanowska said that together with external investment, Wits Enterprise had spent R4.5 million on seed funding for spin-off companies this year.
“This went to seven innovations, most of which support expanded product portfolios of existing spin-offs, or provide technology feasibility and market inputs for the creation of new ones,” she said.
Meanwhile, Anita Nel, chief director of innovation and business development, said in November that SU had secured R26 million from outside investors to support five new start-up businesses.
One of these companies has a turnover of about R100 million a year and another has seen its turnover increase from R6 million to R24 million over three years said Nel.
* Michael Brown is a Moneyweb intern.