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Although the rise of Covid-19 presented many challenges to our country in the year 2020, it stimulated the growth of technological innovations that we can build on to the effects on how we do business, how we trade, how we work, how we produce goods, how we learn, how we seek medical services and how we entertain ourselves in 2021.

With climate change being one of the biggest challenges facing humanity, and the use of technology experiencing exponential growth, Dr Rethabile Melamu, General Manager of Green Economy and Dr Andrew de Vries, General Manager of Smart Industries at The Innovation Hub have identified five trends that could stimulate the growth of South Africa’s economy in 2021 and beyond.

“In the South African tech-space, we are continuously innovating technologies in a changing environment,” says Dr de Vries. “Last year, however, saw an increase in the pace at which technology development is done. We’ve had to adapt and innovate quickly, and the expected trajectory for this year is promising,” he adds.

The five identified trends are outlined below:

1. Rise of renewable energy

With the government prioritising programmes such as the Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Programme to stimulate economic growth post the Covid-19 pandemic (via the procurement of locally manufactured small components currently being imported, which have been designated for local production), we can expect to see a significant change in this industry. This will provide entrepreneurs opportunities within the components-manufacturing sector and stimulate the growth of the economy overall.

2. Blockchain technologies

Blockchain technology is a system of recording information that makes it impossible to alter or change. It is a digital ledger of duplicated and distributed transactions across the entire network of computer systems on the blockchain. “We potentially foresee disruptive changes by blockchain technology within different industries such as energy management, gaming, banking and payments, cyber-security and online data storage,” says Dr de Vries.

3. Building a circular economy

A circular economy is characterised by its resource efficiency along various value chains in the provision of basic goods and services. For instance, in the agricultural sector, circularity finds expression in at least two areas, first, in the minimisation and beneficiation of waste, and secondly in resource efficiency (water and fertiliser) enabled by fourth industrial revolution technologies such as Internet of Things (IoT).

Two of the companies currently housed at The Innovation Hub that promote circular economy are DNF and Hustlemomics. DNF beneficiates recycled crushed glass waste to substitute concrete based products such as tombstones and table counter tops, where Hustlenomics utilises recycled construction waste to produce bricks used in the construction of quality and durable homes that replace backyard shacks. “We are proud of the entrepreneurs who are able to use waste or otherwise underutilised products to create new, innovative and useful products,” says Dr Melamu.

4. Apps, e-commerce and digitisation

Distribution and delivery methods have been enhanced since the start of lockdown in March 2020. The rise in the use of apps, e-commerce and digitisation in 2021 is significant. Industries such as retail, tourism and schooling have started looking at ways to move online. Restaurants have capitalised on food delivery services using apps and retail companies have had to move their businesses online, adjusting distribution and delivery methods within their sectors. Educational Compass, a company housed at The Innovation Hub, has developed an online platform that aims to help all learners achieve and reach their best potential in academia. The company provides tutorial services and learner management systems to schools and parents.

5. The efficiency of mobility

With a focus on efforts to mitigate against impacts of climate change, green mobility is slowly gaining momentum in South Africa. This is any kind of transportation that is eco-friendly, and with less impact on the immediate environment compared to conventional modes of transportation. Specifically, the use of electric vehicles in South Africa is on the rise and could addresses two challenges, namely, mineral beneficiation in the manufacturing of relevant components and climate change. In 2021, The Innovation Hub hopes to support efforts that aid the roll-out of charging infrastructure and support electric vehicle industry and, with other partners, explore the localisation of battery manufacturing in South Africa. Innovations in their sector could lead to job creation and ultimately economic growth.

“We are confident that our scientists and entrepreneurs will be at the forefront of new and exciting innovations that are aligned to these upcoming trends to help grow the South African economy,” says Melamu.

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