Fund aims to turn African science ideas into business

The path from idea to application is not always smooth Copyright: Flickr/whiteafrican

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[ADDIS ABABA] The UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) has launched a fund that it hopes will help turn scientific ideas into successful enterprises.

The African Science, Technology and Innovation Endowment Fund (ASTIEF), along with the African Science to Business Challenge (ABSC) were launched at the second Science with Africa Conference last week (23–25 June) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

They aim to motivate inventors and innovators and spur on the development of sustainable industries and enterprises for the continent, according to Aida Opoku-Mensah, director of the ICT, Science and Technology Division at UNECA, which organised the conference.

"The work of the fund will be to help translate scientific research and ideas into micro-entrepreneurship to spur socioeconomic growth on the continent," Opoku-Mensah told SciDev.Net.

She said that while researchers and others have many ideas, they do not know how to translate them into enterprise. Opoku-Mensah added that Africa also needs goods and services derived from applied science — a lack of funding, she said, had also impeded turning research outputs into viable commercial products.

ASTIEF, she said, will fund and support both enterprising individuals and research and development (R&D) centres, and bring their outputs to the market. It will also link up R&D centres with industry.

The fund — which will be managed by UNECA —  has received US$500,000 from African organisations, particularly the private sector, Opoku-Mensah said. But she refused either to name the donors or to reveal the fund’s target size.

A committee will now be formed to manage the fund and call for bids, she said. Timelines have not yet been set.

Oye Ibidapo-Obe, president of the Nigerian Academy of Sciences, hailed the move as the first fund in Africa in which even the private sector will be called upon directly to support to science innovation.

"This will create a spill-over effect at national level for science and technology," he said.

Sanoussi Diakite, of the Senegalese Association for the Promotion of Inventions and Innovations, said that having such a fund was good but that UNECA must avoid being steeped in the bureaucracy and inefficiency which he said characterise such initiatives in Africa.

"[The fund’s] administration has to be careful to not get involved in long processes that may hold it back from meeting the objective for which it was established," he said.

"It will need to operate in a transparent manner and be quick in dispensing with bids put before it."