Creating a platform for open innovation to source business ideas and solutions in a safe and low risk manner

On Friday, 26 January, the South African National Space Agency (SANSA), Airbus Defence and Space, Technology Innovation Agency (TIA), and The Innovation Hub Management Company (TIH), hosted a Wold Café networking event at the Tshimologong Innovation Precinct in Johannesburg.

The World Café (open innovation) is a group interaction method focused on creative conversations, leading collaborative dialogue, sharing knowledge and creating possibilities for action. The event was a culmination of a project launched in 2017, which had been aimed at developing and supporting home-grown and novel applications for earth observation data obtained by satellites.

The project had 3 phases of which this Business matching café event is the last. There was an Open Innovation Challenge launched to identify digital/space entrepreneurs – after which shortlisted submissions were able to access support from specialists at SANSA and Airbus Defence and Space.

They have been given access to data-sets at no cost; attended a two-day business model design workshop and a validation workshop to help develop their proposals for the final evaluation. Shortlisted submissions were given the chance to pitch their ideas to relevant industry stakeholders in a casual conversational tone and relaxed setting. The World Café was attended by various industry leaders, CEOs, high level government officials and investors.

The winner received access to the Airbus Defence and Space facilities in order to identify future commercial opportunities. The offer includes a site visit to Airbus Defence and Space in Toulouse, France. In addition, The Innovation Hub will assist the top solution provider with product and business incubation support.

Some finalists will be taken through the TIA Enterprise Development Support Programme, for assessment on business, market and technology readiness, will have access to TIA’s technology stations for assistance on 1 product development (Design, Prototype, Machining), and also have access to TIA funding instruments through an application process (technology development, Youth Technology Innovation Programme, SEED Fund). In turn, the Research Institute for Innovation and Sustainability RIIS will offer business model validation support in the form of mentoring and consulting.

Managing Director for SANSA Earth Observation, Andiswa Mlisa explained the importance of this event “As global and local societal challenges in areas such as water, food security and climate change become more complex to manage, the knowledge base required to make sustainable and meaningful decisions is increasingly wide-ranging and traverses many boundaries.

Through the partnership between SANSA, AIRBUS, THIC and TIA, South African companies, beyond the traditional actors, are being encouraged to contribute to and exploit this knowledge base for innovative solutions to these societal challenges. The partnership is an expression of the South African National System of Innovation working in concert to address global and local societal challenges through Science and Technology”.

All the partners believe there is significant opportunity to apply earth observation data locally, RIIS CEO and project coordinator, Davis Cook said: “The value that earth observation data can provide in creating meaningful change to society is increasing by the day – new digital technologies such as machine learning are giving us unprecedented insight into the world around us.

This challenge gives South African entrepreneurs an opportunity to gain a foothold into a global, multi-billion dollar industry together with one of the largest global aerospace firms… it’s a unique and seriously awesome opportunity!”.

Vaneshree Maharaj