Innovation plays a crucial role in the growth and development of cities, regions, and nations. South Africa, a country with a rich history and diverse economy, has recognised the significance of fostering innovation and entrepreneurship to drive economic growth and tackle societal challenges. Nestled in the heart of Durban, a pioneering agency called Innovate Durban has emerged as a catalyst for innovation, nurturing local talent, and transforming ideas into viable businesses.
Innovate Durban is a registered NPO founded in 2017, that aims to support innovation and innovators in the Durban KwaZulu-Natal region and beyond. The roots of Innovate Durban trace back to its inception as a programme conceptualised by the eThekwini Municipality Economic Development and Investment Promotion Unit. This programme took shape through the intervention of the Innovation Stakeholder Forum, a quarterly gathering aimed at deliberating the state of innovation and innovation support in Durban, KZN.
Under the leadership of its CEO, Aurelia Albert, the agency has become a custodian of innovation in the region, providing various programmes and platforms to support innovative entrepreneurs at every stage of their lifecycle.
These programmes and platforms are dedicated to nurturing innovation and entrepreneurship within the region, catering to the unique requirements of the innovation ecosystem. They serve as vital initiatives that play a pivotal role in supporting and guiding startups on their journey. One of their notable programmes is the Youth Innovation Challenge, which aims to capacitate young individuals with innovative skills and resources to create solutions for societal challenges. This initiative serves as an introduction to innovation and innovative thinking and empowers the youth with the necessary tools to become successful innovators and change-makers.
Another flagship programme of Innovate Durban is the Start-Up Support Programme, which provides incubation and acceleration support to budding and established innovators. Through this programme, entrepreneurs take their concept through to market readiness, they gain access to funding opportunities and investment networks, mentorship, and business development support, reducing barriers to entry and increasing their chances of successfully commercialising their innovation.
As pioneers in the KZN region’s innovation landscape, Innovate Durban acknowledges the inherent obstacles they face. Despite the rapid evolution of the innovation sector, gender imbalances and limited access to innovation resources, addressing these challenges is a top priority for Innovate Durban and they have made substantial progress through proactive initiatives. Innovate Durban specialises in establishing Innovation Centres in marginalised communities, providing crucial access to digital and technological resources. Examples include the Innovation Co-Lab in Cato Manor and the recently launched Innovation Hub and Robotics Laboratory in the Richmond Community, promoting inclusivity and empowering individuals to innovate and thrive.
Under the leadership of Aurelia Albert, Innovate Durban has made a significant impact on the local innovation ecosystem. The agency has supported numerous startups, many of which have achieved remarkable success. In just the 2021/2022 financial year, Innovate Durban has been successful in creating 11 employment opportunities, attracting R2,5 million in innovation funding, successfully supporting six innovations through to commercialisation and enhancing Durban’s overall competitiveness in the global market. Additionally, Innovate Durban’s emphasis on sustainability has led to the development of eco-friendly businesses and solutions that address environmental challenges.
As the CEO of Innovate Durban, Aurelia Albert is driven by the vision of transforming the region into a dynamic and inclusive innovation ecosystem. Her dedication and leadership have propelled Innovate Durban from a small team of four staff members to a robust organisation with a team of 14 professionals.
Albert’s further aspirations for Innovate Durban include continued impact in the innovation landscape and the growth of businesses and innovations developed by the agency’s innovators. By supporting and nurturing local talent, Innovate Durban, under Albert’s guidance, aims to position Durban and the KZN region as leaders of innovation in South Africa.
A Hub of Innovation
Having previously served as the programme manager for innovation within eThekwini Municipality, Aurelia Albert brings a wealth of valuable career accomplishments in the field to her role as CEO of Innovate Durban. Since the organisation’s inception, she has been at the forefront, guiding Innovate Durban with her expertise and dedication. Her leadership has played a pivotal role in propelling the agency’s mission and vision to new heights.
Her unwavering commitment to leading Innovate Durban stems from a deep-rooted desire to witness Durban and KZN emerge as a hub of innovation within South Africa, fostering remarkable growth and development in the region. A standout achievement during her tenure as CEO has been the extraordinary expansion of Innovate Durban and its recognition beyond the borders of Durban with national and international recognition. The most recent achievement being leading Innovate Durban’s Innovation Co-Lab into successfully being regarded as an American Corner by the US Embassy.
Looking ahead, Albert’s aspirations for Innovate Durban are to continue making a significant and lasting difference in the realm of innovation. She aims to further bolster support and nurture the businesses and innovations of the talented innovators within the community, creating an environment where their ideas can thrive and flourish.
An Unstoppable Catalyst
In conclusion, Innovate Durban has emerged as an unstoppable catalyst, propelling innovation, entrepreneurship, and economic prosperity in the KZN region. With a rich variety of programs and platforms, the agency empowers innovators, and startups, and fosters an all-encompassing innovation ecosystem. By actively engaging with industry leaders, marginalised communities, the public sector, and SMMEs, Innovate Durban is reshaping the very fabric of the innovation landscape in Durban and extending its influence far beyond. In doing so, it has solidified its position as a dynamic and vibrant hub of innovation, driving South Africa’s innovation agenda forward with unwavering determination.