University of the Witwatersrand: Innovation at its finest
Promoted by University of the Witwatersrand

University of the Witwatersrand: Innovation at its finest

The University of the Witwatersrand, known as Wits, is a shining example of how dedication to innovation and research can lead to significant breakthroughs that positively impact society. The institution’s unwavering commitment to advancing knowledge and improving lives through its groundbreaking research and development projects is nothing short of inspiring.

One cannot help but be uplifted by the university’s cutting-edge creations, such as the hearZA app, which is providing much-needed hearing screening services to underserved communities in South Africa. The development of a rapid diagnostic test for tuberculosis (TB) is another example of the university’s devotion to solving real-world problems and improving the lives of those affected by the disease. The Sibanye Stillwater Digital Mining Laboratory aims to make mining safer and more sustainable, using digital technologies. The Wits Advanced Surgical Skills Lab is worth mentioning as well. This facility was developed to enhance the training of surgeons, across disciplines, in a state-of-the-art environment filled with top-of-the-line equipment.

Innovation for saving lives

“The need to innovate not only places us at the forefront of revolutionary technologies but at the heart of saving lives,” says Professor Lynn Morris, Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Research and Innovation. “We have been a pioneer in healthcare innovation, with a focus on developing solutions that address the unique challenges faced by healthcare providers and patients on the continent.”

Nothing less is expected of an influential university that leads by example. After all, Wits was the first in South Africa to own an IBM mainframe computer, access a quantum computer in partnership with IBM, develop a digital innovation precinct, discover and describe early pre-human fossils, host a 5G lab, and effectively transmit data through light.

Fostering a Culture of Entrepreneurship and Innovation

The university’s strategic vision, proactive approach and culture of innovation are further exemplified by its various spaces and institutes dedicated to research and development, such as the brand-new Wits Innovation Centre. This interdisciplinary research and development hub was recently developed to ignite an inextinguishable fire within students that ultimately fosters a sense of entrepreneurship.

“It’s at the heart of innovation in the university community,” says Dr. Adam Pantanowitz, a prolific biomedical and electrical engineer at Wits and the Director of the WIC. “It brings together bright minds from around the university to coordinate innovation activities, work on educational innovation programmes, bring industry into our university ecosystem and really act at the forefront of taking innovation out into society for impact.”


An entire support team is set in place to ensure all world-changing products, processes, and services are brought to life — at no cost. Their services include spearheading fundraising, marketing, spinouts/incubation, negotiating commercial deals and intellectual property protection strategies; identifying promising innovations based on research; training on the “how to” of innovation, networking and partnerships; securing the best intellectual property deals; and providing effective statutory administration and policy advice.

Tackling Complex Challenges for Real-World Impact

Senior Programme Manager Letlotlo Phohole, who specialises in technology and innovation management, is in charge of ensuring WIC members have unlimited access to industry insights. The WIC’s first collaboration — with Telkom — has already resulted in the new Telkom Industry Solutions Lab, a commercial research and development (R&D) facility where multidisciplinary teams from both parties will collaborate to research and realise ideas and opportunities that add value to the business and the broader telecommunications industry.

Phohole believes the Solutions Lab may draw inspiration from a variety of design processes and concepts, including systems thinking, IDEO, biomimicry, double diamond, TRIZ, and more. “This will allow us to explore multiple avenues of problem-solving and leverage the strengths of each approach to create innovative solutions with real-world impact,” he says.

“This multidisciplinary approach will enable us to tackle complex challenges and create solutions that challenge the status quo, disrupt industries, and make a positive impact on society, with a focus on commercialisation opportunities for SMEs and industry partners.”

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