Stellenbosch University’s LaunchLab has partnered with RS Components to introduce its ‘Makerspace’ to the world. The LaunchLab was born from an initiative called Innovus, the industry interaction and innovation company of Stellenbosch University. In 2015 the LaunchLab opened its new 1200 m² facility on campus thanks to its founding sponsor, Nedbank, and matching funding from the department of trade and industry’s Incubation Support Programme.
LaunchLab incubation support provides everything a startup business would need to get started and forge ahead with the vision to make entrepreneurship not just aspirational but by facilitating valuable connections between the startups and strategic partners to help accelerate their business. Since its inception more than 215 startups, entrepreneurs, students and innovators have gone through the incubation processes with the following notable milestones to date: 122 jobs created; 148 businesses incubated, more than R100 million raised in investment capital; 8 corporate partners who have engaged the startup ecosystem and partnered with startups; and 3 startups in Grindstone 3, 1 in Techstars in 2017.
The main objective of LaunchLab was to connect corporate partners with startup businesses. For a startup the programme is about validating the concept, idea or business model by getting genuine feedback and support from experts, potential clients and investors as well as gaining access to markets.
The corporate partner gains instant access to insight, technology and disruption into their industry, which can lead to new innovation and possible new revenue sectors with corporate partners such as Mercedes-Benz South Africa, Santam Insurance, ATTACQ and Nedbank.
The natural progression for LaunchLab was developing a ‘Makerspace’ – a dedicated area equipped with high-tech, low-volume manufacturing equipment to
facilitate prototyping and experimentation. The space had to be conducive for engineers, designers and creatives to collaborate, innovate and produce devices and solutions that have real-world applications.
LaunchLab already had the environment to enhance creativity but needed a partner to support with high-tech tools and equipment to create physical prototypes. RS Components was keen to support the initiative, especially given the focus on solving real-world problems by using technology. RS has sponsored tools, equipment and components to the value of R300 000 to get the Makerspace up and running.
“Launchlab is all about facilitating valuable connections,” says Philip Marais, CEO of the LaunchLab. “When we ran our first workshops about hardware development over the last few years we realised that there was a large group of people that was interested in this that did not attend our other events. Launching the Makerspace is opening the door to a permanent opportunity for that market of entrepreneurs to benefit from valuable connections and build world class tech. We are very grateful to RS Components for giving us the boost we needed to launch the Makerspace.”
The LaunchLab Makerspace was officially opened on Monday 30 July 2018. The opening had an exhibition by makers from the Makerspace as well as a showcase by IoT innovators Xinabox. To add some fun to the proceedings a Makerthon was held on the weekend using components sponsored by RS, giving participants just a few days to conceptualise and build a working prototype.
Top honours went to the ‘Child Growth Development Monitoring System’ which is a mobile, self-service device that can be deployed across rural areas. The idea is that mothers can weigh and measure their babies at any time, this information is date stamped and saved online ready for doctors to access so that they can monitor a child’s development over time using accurate data.
Other notable projects were a water dispensing system that monitors soil nutrient levels and automatically dispenses water when required, as well as a next-generation coffee machine that can be accessed through Wi-Fi via an app on a phone, which helps customise the beverage and remembers exactly how each user takes their coffee.
Brian Andrew, managing director of RS Components in South Africa, advised that this was the first official Makerspace that RS has sponsored in Africa. “We partnered with the Stellenbosch LaunchLab because it has created the right environment for makers and engineers to experiment and evolve their tech ideas and concepts while gaining access to the right expertise and funding to launch startup businesses. We wanted to make sure that the innovators of tomorrow have access to the right tools and technology to bring their ideas to life. RS has always supported future innovation and we feel that the LaunchLab Makerspace is a good place to start and build a footprint of makerspaces not just in South Africa but throughout the rest of Africa.”