Cultivating student entrepreneurship within Unisa’s innovation ecosystem

Innovation plays a significant role in cultivating entrepreneurship by bringing products to markets and solving societal challenges. The Directorate of Innovation, Technology Transfer and Commercialisation (DITTC) is the driving force behind the development of innovative solutions that can lead to entrepreneurial business ventures for registered students and staff members of Unisa. 

The DITTC’s approach to fostering innovation is not linked to an academic curriculum or confined to an incubation space. Instead, it is holistic and aims to cultivate and encourage student entrepreneurship through the university’s innovation ecosystem.

With the support of a team of specialists in innovation and commercialisation, the holistic approach is designed to build and invest in establishing new start-ups and efficiently skill innovators to execute their roles on their entrepreneurial journey. 

"The DITTC’s contribution to the entrepreneurial development of students focuses on solutions that are innovative and technology-driven, or research-backed solutions that have the potential to solve some of our societal challenges," says Basanda Pongoma, Business Development Specialist: Start Up Academy at the DITTC.


Basanda Pongoma, Business Development Specialist: Start Up Academy at the DITTC

Venturing services, such as the facilitation of new venture creations, the Start Up Academy (which provides training, mentorship, and linkages for prototype development and piloting) and membership of the Entrepreneurship Club (a network platform for collaboration between start-ups and peer-to-peer mentorship), ensure the success of innovators and innovation.  

Enabling innovation support for students

The first step for students to participate in entrepreneurship programmes facilitated by the DITTC is to take part in the Student Innovation Challenge. "The Student Innovation Challenge provides an opportunity for registered students to pitch innovative ideas aimed at solving societal challenges," says Pongoma.

Here, many students across South Africa pitch their initial ideas at Unisa’s regional centres, followed by regional boot camps and a final pitching session known as The Forge, where industry experts act as adjudicators.

The final pitching session takes place during the Unisa Innovation Festival, an annual flagship event that targets students at the grassroots level to kickstart their entrepreneurship journey. 

Winners of The Forge then qualify to participate in the DITTC Start Up Academy and Entrepreneurship Club to build their new start-ups. The student innovators are then assisted in developing their innovation ideas into tangible solutions on their journey of a venture build. They are also provided with business and technical mentors, and are offered market access to commercialise their innovative solutions.

The student innovators also participate in the International Student Exchange programme, where they visit an international university to learn, inspire and be inspired by their peers and seasoned entrepreneurs. 

You, too, can become a student innovator

Bonginkosi Mabaso, CEO of Ann-Connect, a technology-driven platform which enables students to access online examinations offline, was crowned the overall winner of the Innovation Challenge in 2023. Mabaso and other 2023 winners, Gift Dialwe Mokgotsi, Sibongiseni Nhlabathi, Felicia Palesa Mhlanga and Thabang Mofokeng, are taking part in a year-long programme of developing their ideas into sustainable and tangible products.  

Are you a registered Unisa student with an innovative idea that can solve a societal challenge? You, too, can become a student innovator. The Student Innovation Challenge pre-selection pitching sessions are currently taking place nationally. 

Follow this link to secure seed funding, exclusive Unisa’s Entrepreneurship Club membership, incubation support, and an opportunity to receive business development support and mentorship. For more information, send an e-mail to 

* By Mpho Moloele, PR and Communications, Department of Research, Innovation and Commercialisation

Publish date: 2024/04/08

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