BY Fast Company SA 6 MINUTE READ

Resolution Circle is a private company wholly owned by the University of Johannesburg.
It was launched in 2012 with the mission of providing internships and technology commercialisation services. It was started from funds raised by the National Skills Fund (over R200 million) and UJ. 

The company operates independently with its own board of directors (directors from both industry and UJ) and receives no regular grants for operations. As a commercial company, it has to earn its own keep through normal services to the larger industry.The intern services as well as commercialisation services are provided to both UJ and non-UJ participants. 
Over the past three years, Resolution Circle has developed over 80 products for various startups and companies. It has also provided internship opportunities to more than 800 technical interns. The business now employs in excess of 500 people, has access to specialised commercialisation equipment worth over R160 million, and operates from two sites. It also operates in partnership with companies through joint ventures in the power electronics and other high-tech areas.
Fast Company SA sat with CEO Professor Willem Clarke and Gideon Potgieter, HOD of Business Development, to find out more about Resolution Circle. 

What is your core aim?
The core aim that drives the mission statements of internships and commercialisation is to generate sustainable jobs for the youth, predominantly through technology entrepreneurship/start-ups, but also by seeding the local manufacturing industry(through new products either by start-ups or due to localisation of existing products). Resolution Circle focuses predominantly on developing products that lead to manufacturing.

Resolution Circle developed the Idea-to-BarcodeTM process to commercialise technology. This includes a unique in-house procedure with 29 standardised steps, which takes technology-based business innovations from idea to prototyping, business development, raising funds, industrial and engineering design, designing for manufacturing, pre- compliance testing to small-scale manufacturing. We even provide the marketing and exhibition design, as well as the packaging design. Resolution Circle stops at the point when the startup has enough stock to generate R1 million of revenue. 

Which exciting and impactful projects are you busy with?

  • Developing 56 township startups in partnership with the City of Joburg and UJ. Already, 12 of these are generating enough revenue to employ two to three people.
  • Resolution Circle hosts the Green City Startup competition on behalf of CoJ and UJ, to find and develop winning participants to develop their products and introduce into the market.
  • In partnership with UJ, we host five startups as part of the SAB Kickstarter programme.
  • Resolution Circle will be commercialising 10 startups by UJ graduates, for which UJ will provide seed funding.
  • The company employed 115 graduate interns from all over SA in its commercialisation units. This provides them with work experience and exposes them to the world of technology entrepreneurship and commercialisation.
  • We host the Maxx Solar Academy that has trained more than 500 people (mostly electricians) to design and install solar systems.
  • Resolution Circle is working with several universities across SA to commercialise some of their technologies.
  • We won a tender to train, over the past three years, technical teachers in the Gauteng Department of Education from Grade 10 to 12.

How do you ensure you support aspiring entrepreneurs from development to commercialisation?
Resolution Circle’s main aim is to reduce the technology risks for funders of startups. We do this by offering a one-stop shop for technology commercialisation, and in the process provide a fixed price and certainty, backed up by our track record and good governance.

With our Idea-to-BarcodeTM process, we start with training—not just in the business of startups but also the business of tech commercialisation, as well as an introduction to technology commercialisation at Resolution Circle. An experienced manager is assigned to accompany the entrepreneur through our process. Resolution Circle has defined seven levels of prototyping, which are used as mile stones.Obviously, the business development aspects of the business also receive attention by our team of more than 30.

Resolution Circle will help with the funding application for selected startups, in which case we will also take a limited-time revenue share of the product. However, in these cases, we will also help with the sales through our sales engine and extensive networks.

There are three levels of incubator spaces, ranging from our TinkerSpace (open office with access to the dedicated prototyping space), labs and dedicated office space. All of these are housed in our 12-floor glass building in Milpark, surrounded by the media, two universities and various business schools. Incubatees will have access to fast Internet, meeting rooms, staff lunch floor, business support functions, among others. 

Elaborate on your R&D projects.
Depending on which stage start-up companies are at, we take them on a journey to reach a point where they have products they can sell. Some startups approach us when they still have an idea, which we then turn into an engineering design. Some startups approach us when they already have a prototype. We then assess the prototype to establish whether we can replicate the prototype and manufacture a final product. In some cases, we need to redesign and re- prototype to reach a point where we can manufacture. Some startups approach us when they already have a final product, but need a supplier who can do small production runs.
  • Austics—developedadigitalstethoscope prototype for one of the SAB Kickstarter Boost finalists.
    Booze and Beverage — developed a working prototype of a fast-dispensing unit.
  • City of Joburg Community Innovation Fund—various projects, most notably the 3D concrete printer for construction, hydrogen storage for fuel cells, fire-retardant bricks, acid mine drainage purification, and modular housing made from recycled plastic.
  • Cobb—developedanext- generation fuel, which is yet to be launched.
  • Liquid Gold — we performed a technical due diligence on beneficiation of waste into valuable minerals.
  • Powerplus Energy—developed a battery- charging device prototype.
  • Suntoy—developed a next-generation product that includes wireless communication between devices.
  • Yellowbeast—developed a digital irrigation controller prototype for one of the SAB Kickstarter Boost finalists.

Tell about the four public projects you run?
These projects were done on behalf of UJ in partnership with CoJ.

• Green City Startup. This project involved the recruitment of the top eight green startup ideas from people living in the CoJ area. More than 100 entries were received in 2016. The top eight each received R250 000 to develop a prototype. The prototype and business were evaluated by a panel of experts. The winner received R1 million in prize money, with the runners-up each receiving large investments. This project was in its second iteration in 2016 and will continue later in 2017.

• Digital Ambassadors. This project (completed) involved the recruitment, training and deployment of 1 800 youths and 300 mentors (UJ undergraduates) from the townships to activate the free CoJ Wi-Fi on citizens’ devices. Each digital ambassador operated as a small enterprise, and was paid per activation. In the process, more than 500 000 citizens were activated in CoJ.

• Community Innovation Fund.This project was done in two phases. The first phase (completed) involved the identification of 16 top projects recruited from the CoJ area which provided community-based innovation. These were selected from 2 000 entries by expert panels. These 16 projects were developed and demonstrated to the City, for possible consideration in future procurement. The second phase involved recruiting 56 township- based enterprises with R60 000 investment in each (in addition to other development). These township entrepreneurs had to come up with innovative ideas to operate in the townships, specifically in container-based micro-malls located in these areas. Unfortunately, the CoJ canceled the project and the micro-malls could not be deployed. However, the 56 micro- enterprises continue, and 12 of them are now successful enough to employ at least one or more additional persons. As part of this, Resolution Circle had to develop various programs and templates.

• Wellness Warriors.This project(also completed) involved the selection, training and deployment of “wellness warrior” youths to a number of schools to help drive a healthy lifestyle. This involved initiatives to help public schools in the CoJ area to achieve certain levels of healthy living. Each tier was associated with a prize to help the schools expand their sports and health facilities, and to achieve the next tier. Over 100 schools were reached during this project. 

Which other services do you offer?

  • Our hospitality team hosts events for corporates in facilities including training venues, boardrooms and conference facilities.
  • Our in-house marketing agency provides various design services to startups and corporates alike.
  • IntelliLab, our in-house media production facility, creates media content in the innovation and entrepreneurial space. It has its own Netflix-like site that streams and hosts media in the form of documentaries, talk shows, training videos etc. It also provides video clips to entrepreneurs and corporates.
  • We provide applied technology training courses, specifically focused on practice. This can be done in our 300-seater training workshops, or two other training venues.
  • We can provide patenting services (searches, advice, submitting patent claims) through our in-house patenting lawyer.
  • Our 29 Idea-to-BarcodeTM services can each be provided as an individual service. These include access to our 25 technology stations providing technology commercialisation training, business development, design, prototyping, pre-compliance testing and small-scale manufacturing (e.g. carpentry, fabrication, high-precision CNC) services.

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