Why we are still talking about innovation

Updated on 15 February 2017

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Innovation is all the buzz. But what does innovation really mean? The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) defines innovation as “the implementation of a new or significantly improved product (goods or service) or process.”

So innovation is really about implementing and commercialising new products or substantially improving existing ones.

For commercialisation to be successful one must innovate to solve a problem. The problem must be a real pain point for people so they will buy and use the innovation that helps solve it.

What can assist us to identify these problems and challenges? We can look at global challenges and trends including sustainability issues like: food shortages, water scarcity, waste and how to use it productively, renewable energy and rapid urbanization, among others. You can also explore challenges experienced in SA or in townships or in your community or school.

There are few local companies that have seen some of these challenges and have successfully built businesses around solving. Below are some examples:

Magpie Art Collective is a company from the Karoo in South Africa that recycles waste and makes bespoke chandeliers and art pieces from that waste. They are turning trash into art. They have even sold one of their art pieces to President Barack Obama.

Other examples of innovations that were borne from challenges in South Africa are Herman Mashaba’s Black Like Me and Jabu Stone hair products. Mashaba started Black Like Me because there were no hair products available for African hair. Jabu Stone achieved similar success by offering a solution for black people looking for products for their dreadlocks.

The above examples of innovations that have both successfully solved consumers’ problems and challenges and were successfully commercialised.

In addition to introducing a brand new product, innovation can also assist entrepreneurs in expanding their product offering, thereby adding longevity to their business. Innovation is a tool that entrepreneurs can use to outmaneuver their competition and stay relevant. Thus, innovation and entrepreneurship can supplement and complement each other.

About the author: Zanele Monnakgotla is currently managing director of Freewi Technologies a company she founded in 2014. She has served as chairman of the South African Innovators Network (SAINE), the biggest network of innovators in SA. In 2013 she founded Startup South Africa, a platform that helps entrepreneurs navigate the entrepreneurship landscape in South Africa.

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