#FeesMustFall leads to incubator for small business development

02 May 2018

Inspired by the national #FeesMust Fall campaign towards the end of 2015, the Tshwane University of Technology’s Prof Khumbulani Mpofu, decided the only way to help students, is by thinking out of the box.  The NRF Y-rated researcher and the Gibela Research Chair at the TUT’s Department of Industrial Engineering, secured five million rand towards the establishment of a Manufacturing Incubator from the Department of Small Business Development.

  Professor Khumbulani Mpofu

Prof Mpofu initiated the Gibela collaboration on 12 March 2015 with Marc Granger, Gibela’s CEO at the time, who introduced him to the Economic Development Director Dr Buyiswa Mncono-Liwani. Further engagements resulted in the signing of a MoU to collaborate on a research chair in manufacturing and skills development in 2016 in an effort to support the mega million rand project to revitalise the SA commuter rail car manufacturing sector. 

This incubator will be the first to have a focus on rail manufacturing and manufacturing in general in the country. Gibela Rail Transport Consortium (Gibela) is a newly established company to manufacturer 600 X’Trapolis MEGA (metric gauge) commuter trains to the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa over a period of ten years.

“Young people are increasingly recognised as critical actors in matters of global importance such as the Fourth Industrial Revolution, especially in advancing competitive economies of the future. I place great hope in their potential and power to shape our future and the greatest investment would be in their technology focused entrepreneurial education, hence this initiative,” explained Prof Mpofu.

Moreover, Prof Mpofu and the Gibela cabal, who are fully conscious of their role as catalysts for economic and skills development, are set on a mission to create jobs through innovation. 

An agreement to establish an incubator followed from the team’s development of many prototypes, which have not realised their commercial potential. 

Gibela agreed to secure resources, receive support, and possibly develop these creative and innovative concepts into technology driven SMME businesses. 

Prof Mpofu has embraced the challenge, which has given birth to the incubator support.

“The incubator will enable transition from the academic space into the commercial domain, which could in the long run develop into sustainable commercial entities." 

He added that It was critical for the Gibela Rail Consortium to have the incubator, because they have a programme of developing black industrialists. “On the other hand, I am on a mission to invest in students’ education, while also influencing employment creators who can contribute to unravell the unemployment, inequality, and poverty triple helix challenge South Africa faces”.

Prof Mpofu is currently the youngest professor in the Faculty of Engineering and the Built Environment. His research career started upon after the completion of a five-year qualification, with a design project t for his Bachelor of Engineering Honours degree in Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering. This project had both design elements and an exploratory research aspect. 

In 2005, he received an offer to be a lecturer in a Bachelor of Technology programme at a Polytechnic, where he was responsible for computer-related courses. He then enrolled for a postgraduate course which had a 50% research component.

During his Master’s studies in a Master of Science in Manufacturing Systems and Operations Management, he gained interest on the computer aspects of the manufacturing industry. He was also involved in a Cleaner Production project at the manufacturing site of an airline production and maintenance unit. He also pursued a research project in 2006, focusing on small to medium enterprise wood manufacturing companies and how they can reduce their environmental impact by collating their efforts with a clustering approach. Prof Mpofu enrolled for a Doctorate degree in Mechanical Engineering at TUT in 2007, where he designed a Knowledge Based System for Reconfigurable Manufacturing.

For more information on the Tshwane University of Technology, please contact Willa de Ruyter, Corporate Affairs and Marketing.
Tel: +27 12 382 5352   Email: deruyterw@tut.ac.za