New approach towards commercializing Research & innovation Outputs

For decades, African universities have honed several innovations. However, due to poor industrial base and weak link between academia and the industry, such innovations have not been commercialized.

To reverse this trend, a new sub-taskforce named Innovation Centre for Product Development and Commercialization (iPDeC) was established at JKUAT in 2016.

The aim of iPDeC is to develop a road map actualizing the continuum process of research, innovation and commercialization of outputs from Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) and the Pan African University Institute for Basic Sciences, Technology and Innovation (PAUSTI).

This road map involves engaging the Research and Production Directorates of RPE, the Directorate of Intellectual Property Utilization and Industry Liaison (DIPUIL), the Nairobi Technology Industrial Park (NTIP), and other sub-taskforces of the AFRICA-ai-JAPAN Project in identifying and profiling innovations for upscaling, incubation and commercialization.

Prof. Obanda (right) is taken through the block press machine, by Eng. Ng’ang’a, the inventor
Prof. Obanda (right) is taken through the block press machine, by Eng. Ng’ang’a, the inventor

iPDeC sub-taskforce Chairperson, Prof. Martin Obanda explained that innovation profiling takes into consideration the technical, economic, and socio-cultural characteristics of a product. Such considerations delve into market potential, possible collaborators, and Intellectual Property (IP) audit.

Once an innovation is profiled, Prof. Obanda adds that JKUAT can then competitively source for champions, mainly young people, with drive to lead the commercialization agenda, with support from a funding institution.

“Universities are supposed to be sources of innovations. But the researchers are not entrepreneurs. So we need people who can make business sense out of an idea,” Prof. Obanda explains.

“Our approach is unique in the sense that it brings on board many players in the innovation value chain. The innovator, the entrepreneur, capital owners, and the university. Everybody wins.”

Schematic concept on the creation, development and commercialization of innovations within JKUAT.
Schematic concept on the creation, development and commercialization of innovations within JKUAT.

iPDeC has so far profiled 5 innovations in readiness for commercialization. In addition, the Centre has a target of profiling 7 more innovations by the end of 2017. Some of the innovations profiled include: Block Press machine, Multipurpose solar biomass hybrid drier, Irrigation Management System and Digital Power Distribution.

To be effective, iPDeC has brought together a multidisciplinary team drawn from business, technology, economics, financial analysis, marketing, and intellectual property.

Eng. B. K. Kariuki, head of the Directorate of Intellectual Property Management and University-Industry Liaison (DIPUIL) and member of iPDeC argues that much of the innovations coming out of the African universities are not protected; hence it is difficult to exploit them economically.

He pointed out that the poor IP culture within academia and industry, is a key impediment to the continent’s industrialization agenda.

“In developed economies like Japan, the Japanese Institute of Invention and Innovation (JIII) which was established 110 years ago, has succeeded in assisting innovators translate their novelties into commercial ventures,” Eng. Kariuki added.

Ultimately, Prof. Obanda says, approach shall enable the JKUAT and PAUSTI not only produce competent manpower but also create conditions necessary for translating innovations into industries across Africa.