File image: Wesley Diphoko, Head of the Independent Digital Lab. (IOL).
CAPE TOWN - As youth Month draws to an end, society will move on to other matters of national importance. 

Yet, young people in South Africa still have less chance of securing an employment opportunity after spending years at an academic institution.

Many are beginning to ask questions about the relevance of academic institutions if all one gets for studying is much debt and no employment opportunity. This situation should move society to begin a process of overhauling academic institutions to be entrepreneurial entities that develop people who employ others.

This view was recently suggested at a gathering of academic entrepreneurs (a phrase coined by Professor Michael Morris) at UCT. Academics questioned the relevance of a university under current conditions of youth unemployment and recommended that there’s a need for entrepreneurial universities.

The idea of entrepreneurial universities is partly inspired by the rise of start-ups that were founded by students. Think Mark Zuckerberg at Harvard and Sergey Brin and Larry Page, who founded Google at Stanford University.

There’s a litany of companies that were formed by students at universities that are now worth trillions.

Some students at universities have demonstrated the ability to come up with innovative solutions.

Recently the German Society for Mechatronics recently awarded outstanding work in the field of mechatronics. All over Germany, universities were invited to submit their best bachelor theses. The winning idea came from Aalen: Philip Frenzel, who won first place with his thesis.

His clever idea to develop a kind of “mobile phone airbag” convinced the judges and it is already registered for a patent.

Academic institutions are a hotbed of great innovations that need to be harnessed to benefit society and create jobs. In South Africa some universities have begun a process of unleashing innovations through start-up accelerators for their own students.

Stellenbosch University (LaunchLab), University of Cape Town (Solution Space) as well as Tshimologong by Witwatersrand University are great examples of academic institutions that are environments for the support of entrepreneurship by students.

The LaunchLab at the University of Stellenbosch is a start-up incubator that has the goal of building a thriving ecosystem for entrepreneurs within the university and beyond. 

LaunchLab provides office space, facilities and incubation programmes along with expert advice, mentorship and access to funding for University of Stellenbosch students and business community at large

LaunchLab is already showing signs of success. One of the start-ups from LaunchLab was a winner at VivaTech, an international technology platform in France. VivaTech is one of the largest technology conferences in the world, attracting more than 66000 people, and over 200 speakers, including the chief executives of Facebook, Microsoft, IBM and Uber, and some of the most respected brands in the world, including LMVH, Verizon and SoftBank.

Vizibiliti Insight, a start-up from LaunchLab, was selected and invited to present at #VivaTech 2018 after being shortlisted from more than 110 applications of more than 30 countries, for Verizon’s alternative credit scoring challenge.

Verizon selected Vizibiliti Insight as the overall winner of Customer Experience Transformation through Digital Challenge.

Vizibiliti Insight’s alternative scoring solution enables any credit provider to provide credit safely for difficult to analyse customers, who otherwise would be refused credit.

Credit scoring

Vizibiliti is working on specialised credit scoring solutions for South African entrepreneurs, often considered too high-risk for banks and other credit providers to lend to.

The aim of the solution is to support credit worthiness applications of these businesses and individuals who, although contributing to more than 40percent of South Africa’s GDP, would be declined credit without further consideration.

Another interesting university entrepreneurship entity is Tshimologong at the University of Witwatersrand. Tshimologong is a dynamic development that encourages tech innovation and collaboration between the university’s researchers and students and the private, public and civil society sectors in Johannesburg.

The space has flexible open plan co-working areas with broadband connectivity for ICT start-ups, meeting and refreshment zones, computer laboratories, training rooms, maker spaces, creative content development environments, and administrative and infrastructure support offices.

Start-up accelerators at universities have yielded success for many universities that have adopted this approach to develop entrepreneurial students.

Speaking at the Lekgotla on Entrepreneurial Universities at Entrepreneurship Development in Higher Education, Tope Toogun from Cognity Advisory highlighted the need for entrepreneurship to be embedded in South African universities.

He suggested that this can be done by developing academic entrepreneurs (academics who are entrepreneurial) as well as entrepreneurial students.

Currently there are a couple of universities in South Africa that do not have start-up accelerators.

This year’s Youth Month should inspire academic institutions to not only reflect about youth development matters in June, but by doing something and by creating real solutions to avoid the unemployment of their graduates.

Wesley Diphoko is the founder and chief executive of Kaya Labs.