Innovation: Key Insights from KwaZulu-Natal Innovators

December 2, 2019

Lumec recently undertook research for Innovate Durban in order to develop an Innovation Publication for the Province, a first in KZN. The publication included a profile of 5 successful innovators, which provides a very useful resource for innovators and potential innovators. Parallels among the 5 innovators who were profiled were most evident in the following areas:

1. The toughest challenges to overcome;

2. Lessons learnt; and

3. Valuable insights on what they wish they knew at the start of their innovation journey




Regardless of the innovators’ stage of development, each faced the same challenge when it came to accessing funding. The argument here is that funding is difficult to access, which increases the amount of time required for your project to move through the innovation pipeline. Therefore, whether you require seed funding, capital to develop your prototype or have a new product ready for commercialisation, having the skills to source funding is crucial. Furthermore, most of the innovators cited the same institutions as a critical source of funding for their innovations, namely Invotech and the Technology Innovation Agency. The majority of innovators profiled used competitions as a means to generate capital. Limited access to funding and limited funding in general suggests that it is important for innovators to diversify their funding options. 


All the innovators noted that the innovation journey is a long one, as evidenced in the fact that they began the process several years ago. This is why most identified consistency as the key to achieving results. In other words, it is crucial to be consistent in the pursuit of your innovation because it is a journey that comes with many hurdles, detours and slow progress. One innovator mentioned that he was able to achieve what seemed to be impossible by breaking down big tasks into smaller achievable actions. Furthermore, commitment to the journey may also involve going months and even years without a stable source of income.

What innovators wish they knew when they started

The innovators we spoke to are now all business owners. A few of them emphasised that they had to learn new skill sets in order to succeed in business. These were hard skills that improve business acumen and soft skills including knowing how to manage people (within and outside of your immediate team) and their different personalities. Many innovators seek commercialisation as the ultimate goal for innovations, therefore, an important consideration outlined by one of the innovators was to ensure that commercial aspects are incorporated from early on in your product design such as certification and industry standards. Other innovators pointed out that pursuing your innovation is not a task taken in isolation; the process requires collaboration, partnerships and the right team in your business.

You can see the full interviews here.

To read more about the Innovation Publication project, follow the link here.

Thembi Sikobi

Thembi Sikobi