The Innovation Fund is willing to throw money at creative-thinking South Africans. From renewable energy to commercially useful end products, your inventions and adaptations could be the cash cow you’ve dreamed of finding.

When we first examined exactly how forward-thinking South African entrepreneurs might benefit from the Department of Science and Technologies’ initiative, the Innovation Fund , earlier this year, we were overwhelmed by the vast funding, development and support network we found.

The latest call for action to have come from the department, has us even more excited – one that invites those dabbling specifically in renewable energy generation and storage technologies, which could change the industry as we know it, to submit their ideas, which the department may fund into fruition after an evaluation has been completed.

“Globally, the issue of the environment is very important. We are trying to become a catalyst for innovation that has a positive social impact,” explains the Marketing and Communications Manager for the Innovation Fund, Thabiso Nkone.

The technologies must have commercial application and must fall within the following branches of renewable energy:

Solar Power:
The proposed novel and inventive technologies must improve solar energy capturing and conversion devices. These technologies could relate to the manufacture of novel semiconductor materials, for use in photovoltaics, novel and inventive ways of improving the efficiency of photovoltaic cells and novel and inventive use of different types of semiconductors.

Rechargeable Battery Technologies:
The proposed novel and inventive technologies must improve one or a combination of the following: storage capacity, energy to weight ratio, battery life span, charging/discharging rates, internal resistance and safety. The technologies could be in the development of novel and inventive materials, which can be used either as cathodes, anodes, cell separators and or novel and inventive chemistry of the electrolyte.

The investment, which was for research and development resulting in a working prototype, or similar, which is ready for commercialisation, must be for a maximum of fifteen million Rands (R15 million) over a period of three years while the department will select a winner based on the following:

· Existence of Proof of Science
· Project being in the late stage of its research and development
· Novelty and inventiveness
· The commercial case for the technology
· The capacity of the team proposing the technology

While the call for applications officially closed on 18 September 2009, entrepreneurs are able to submit proposals throughout the year.

“We run open calls throughout the year,” explains Yolandi du Plessis, the Administrative Officer for the Research and Development Funding, adding that several projects for various industries are considered and or funded at any one time.

Managed by the National Research Foundation and a dedicated team of industry experts, the Innovation Fund, launched in 1999, is mandated to promote technological innovation and business entrepreneurial ventures through investing in late-stage research and development, intellectual property protection and commercialisation of novel and inventive South African technologies.

It was founded on the belief in the inventiveness of South Africans and their ability to invent technologies and apply them to solving real life problems. “We are convinced that technological innovation is a sustainable source of competitive advantage for South Africa,” the department explains.

“The South African government gives us money and says, ‘Go and find us technologies that are novel and innovative,” adds Mr. Nkone.

Having an idea can range from deciding how to redecorate a room to a new idea for an invention that could change the world. To patent an idea is not simple or cheap and is best undertaken with the assistance of an entity like the Innovation Fund.

While several projects are being funded simultaneously, the Department of Science and Technologies have recognised the need for renewable energy technologies and are confident that a solution may lie in our own back yard.

“Our promise to entrepreneurs is that, if you can think of an idea that is novel and innovative, and if you have the team to back it up, then we will support you,” says Nkone.

For more information on The Innovation Fund, please visit www.innovationfund.ac.za

Oprah announced recently on her show that the U.S also has a scheme running, whereby each household that proves it has made some meaningful contribution to saving energy, or installed a device to reduce consumption, is entitled to a subsidy of $1500. Details are available on her website. Several other countries are following suit and the Australian government already has a similar scheme running.

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