The State of Innovation in South Africa

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A big part of surviving and even thriving in this challenging operating environment is the ability of businesses to innovate. (Image Source:

Doing business in the global economy has become far more challenging than ever. Start-ups can generate ideas to disrupt markets and compete for customers against enterprises, whilst the brick-and-mortar store down the road now finds itself competing against international retailers who can ship products to customers quicker and for less money than these companies are able to.

Moreover, customers are more informed and thanks to mobile technology, the internet, and social networks are now empowered with the ability to make or break brands through viral service and customer experience feedback.

A big part of surviving and even thriving in this challenging operating environment is the ability of businesses to innovate: To come up with new ideas that will keep operations, products and services fresh and distinguishes your company from its rivals by offering a unique value proposition or benefits for both existing and prospective customers. But what is the state of innovation in South Africa? Do South Africans see themselves as innovative and what do they deem to be their barriers to utilising their creativity to the benefit of their companies?

These questions form the basis for Philips South Africa’s Innovation Research study, in which Philips asked people across South Africa about their perceptions of innovation, the barriers to innovation, and areas where successful innovation can improve communities and lives.

According to this study, six out of every ten South Africans interviewed (base of 1000) claim that they are innovators, whilst 20% feel that they are not reliant on others to come up with creative solutions to challenges. Almost half (46%) feel that their idea will be the next big thing in their industry.

Roadblocks to innovation & detours around issues
Given that such a high percentage of respondents view themselves as innovative, Philips wanted to highlight the barriers to innovation for South Africans. The biggest of these is capital, or rather lack thereof, since 57% of respondents see lack of money as a barrier to innovation. Approximately 29% of respondents see lack of infrastructure to implement a solution as a barrier. Crucially for local companies is that 23% of respondents feel as though the corporate structure does not allow them to be creative, whilst 16% stated that there is a perceived lack of financial reward or benefit to generating innovative ideas.

On the flip side of the innovation coin, namely solutions to help achieve innovation, 42% of respondents feel that financial support from big companies will help boost innovation locally, whilst 31% feel that government incentives will do the trick. A fifth (20%) of respondents think that having mentor relationships for innovators will boost innovation, whilst 14% feel that the prevailing corporate culture should be changed so as to support creative thinkers. That culture of support is vital since the corporate culture can either stifle or encourage innovation. It is important to note that engaged employees are often far more creative and willing to accept innovative ideas from creative thinkers.

What kind of innovation is required locally?
In South Africa, most (54%) respondents feel that innovation should improve lives, whilst 36% think that innovation should make daily life easier and more efficient. When it comes to areas for innovation to improve lives in South Africa, 64% of respondents see healthcare as a crucial sector. In addition, 34% of respondents view education as an area for innovation to improve communities whilst 24% feel health should be the area of focus.

Like the respondents, Philips also believes that everyone has the potential to change the way we live for the better and has partnered with The Innovation Hub in Pretoria to launch the first Innovation Fellows competition in South Africa. This competition aims to unlock local talent and address regionally relevant challenges in healthcare.

Innovators who believe that they have come up with the next big meaningful innovation stand a chance of winning R200 000 as a research and development budget for the next big idea in improving access to primary healthcare.

Interested participants can register at and submit their #nextbigidea in word or PDF format talking to the following topics:
– The challenge being addressed
– The technology solution
– The social impact expected

If your idea is selected, you will be contacted directly to move on to the next phase of the competition.

By JJ Van Dongen, Senior Vice President and CEO Philips Africa