Monthly Archives: November 2017


 The Station produced a book for new entrants to the food industry entitled “So, you want to start a food company?”. As luck would have it, the Department of Agriculture (Western Cape) offered to polish, translate and print the document in all three official languages as part of their Project Khulisa. Ms. Helen Heynes of the aforementioned department played a key role in this.

It is highly unlikely that any one single manual can fully advise on the do’s and don’ts for such a large industry and long value chain. Presently, the document, in the interests of being easily usable, only contains the more pertinent and “in your face” issues that you should be aware of to at least enter the industry. This manual is also to be considered a “living document” i.e. if you read it and think something is missing and critical enough to be included, please let us know and we will consider it for inclusion. This document should therefore be considered a micro Foodie-pedia to which you may contribute for the good of the industry.

In the meantime, after its release, the interest shown in it has led to a few ideas and decisions:

  • PGWC has asked (and I already had it in our plans) to update the document. Great!
  • Students (past and present) have expressed an interest in it – does this mean we have budding entrepreneurs? We need these!!!
  • I have dug out a 7-year old document with the outlines of a course in Food Entrepreneurship. It would seem that the booklet is easily matched and integrates with this concept of a workshop on entrepreneurship. It marries entrepreneurship principles with the hard facts of starting a small food business. What do you think of this as a concept?
  • I have started discussions with our own Business Faculty on assisting with integrating these two things in the workshop and possibly assist with offering it.

So we are going to dabble in this workshop concept while expanding the booklet and also eventually put it online with the assistance of PGWC. Obviously, it will also be introduced into the mainstream academic programme.

Your comments and constructive criticism are wamkelekile / welkom!

Larry Dolley



I love reading books about cosmology and evolution. Authors such as Neil de Grasse Tyson, Richard Dawkins, Brian Cox and Richard Feynman are among my favorites. I pretend to understand some of the mathematics and struggle to understand some of the broader concepts. My unfortunate mind is not tuned to the philosophical and cosmological gymnastics required. But I enjoy it nonetheless.

This brings me to the term “reverse technology transfer” (RTT). Einsteinian theory speaks about relativity, general and special. When using the term RTT, and to understand it better, it must be agreed that relativity applies here. Who is transferring to whom? When is it reverse and when is it forward? Traditionally, in the world in which I work, forward technology transfer (FTT) relates to the university (or ATS) transferring skills and knowledge to someone else e.g. a small company. When ATS in turn transfers technology into the university curriculum to benefit students, this is defined as RTT. With ATS as the fixed reference point, this is easy to understand.

But one cannot use these terms indiscriminately and, if we do, we may lose the other forms of transfer happening or available to us. Some of these include transfer from firms to academia (including ATS), from students to ATS and between SMMEs with the involvement of ATS. I suppose one could go on with more permutations such as these. The key point here is that the traditional version in my field is from university to industry. And this is what we have been trying to do most of the time with mixed successes. What we have not fully addressed is transfer from industry to academia.

What stops or inhibits this from happening? A recent chat with Shawn Cunningham brought this out i.e. why do we not establish working projects where industry comes into academia in a bigger way? Why not place industry staff in academia more often for two way exchanges? Usually, when industry does come in, it is for a short period e.g. 1 hour to 1 day, but seldom more. At ATS we always profess to not being experts at everything (or maybe anything at all) but we have not fully exploited the idea of more concerted transfer into academia from industry.

There have been two successes of this nature to date:

  1. The Blue Karoo project involving catfish product development. The aquacultured fish was transported from Graaff Reinet to be processed and trialed at Food Science & Technology. This was part of a project funded by the DTI via their Technology and Human Resource for Industry (THRIP) programme. As part of the project, equipment was installed temporarily at CPUT to expedite project work.
  2. The CMD Industries project regarding kelp beneficiation from a number of different research angles. After the completion of a Technology Innovation Agency seed fund project, this has now grown to include a quadripartite arrangement involving the company, CPUT, University of Stellenbosch (Process Engineering) and the DTI (THRIP). Technology transfer in all directions!

In both cases, ATS assisted with babying the projects into the academic fold. Both fourth year and Masters’ students have become, or are being, involved in the research process. A perfect example of multiple transfer directions.

This type of arrangement perfectly fits one of definitions of the way ATS interacts with academia and industry i.e. ATS shoots first and aims later while academia aims properly and then shoots. ATS takes a high risk approach to research i.e. to make quick wins. This is then used to guide a much more risk averse academic approach i.e. well-planned research.

Putting this together with moving industry staff into the ATS/academic programme can only facilitate this in a mutually beneficial relationship. We will be putting more emphasis on this in the near future to generate more such collaboration. Call us if you see the potential for this in your present situation.

Larry Dolley


To be, or not to be, involved with open innovation? That is the question today!

We all know that South African companies generally spend a tiny fraction of their budgets on R&D compared to international trends and figures. Also, sharing of information is sometimes inhibited (or prohibited) based on whom you work for and with whom you collaborate or with whom you compete. Shrinking budgets in a shrinking economy further drives down R&D-spend and, for young graduate entrants into the practice of food science & technology, you hit a wall with graffiti in the corridors of companies, saying: “Don’t ask for it, we do not have money for it!” And you know what? I think it may become part of your own mantra and understanding (or misunderstanding) of how R&D and innovation is stifled by financial realities. You then become accustomed to the fact that there is no way around this.

Being in the position I am in, I see this also with SMMEs in the industry, although on a different scale and with different outcomes. When potential clients approach us with novel (or sometimes pretty mundane) ideas, they are usually extremely hesitant to divulge information in order for us to help them. It quite amuses me sometime to see how cagey they are with information and it is only after persuading them of our honest intentions that they will, under a standard non-disclosure agreement, share information. I fully understand this and also that it is a function of being a victim of intellectual property theft before or not understanding that, without sharing with us, we cannot help them. In some cases we are under-fed with important information while we are busy helping them, further delaying progress or a satisfactory outcome.

The open innovation concept, which started in the early 19060s, is not something always easily understood by all firms, especially smaller ones. The concept (aptly described in Wikipedia), just from its name, may be scary since the word “open” can be perceived as “reveal”, “show”, “give” or even “lose”. However, for bigger companies with appropriate financial and human capital muscle it does not pose a potential misperception. In a nutshell, it really is all about being open to collaboration, licensing in ideas (or licensing out), sharing of best practice and putting it all together in your company to produce your new product or process.

SMMEs, in particular, stand to make the most out of an open innovation approach to R&D, business management, IP management and protection and also mutually beneficial sharing of ideas. Without wanting to describe the open innovation process in more detail, I would sincerely suggest that you read the latest version of the British Food Journal (2017) where 13 papers on a number of topics and issues related to innovation have been published. This special issue is thus dedicated to open food innovation and its practices. Read it, learn from it and employ it in your own business (or when you start your own business)!

ATS considers itself to be a link in the matrix of open innovation in the South African food industry. We encourage entrepreneurs and innovators to contact us to share in the open innovation process to our mutual benefit. We are constantly on the lookout for projects of this nature and look forward to assisting you in the innovation process.

Larry Dolley

British Food Journal, Volume 119, No. 11.