South Africa’s V&A Waterfront and Africa’s top ranking business school, the University of Cape Town’s Graduate School of Business (GSB), have announced a shared innovation collaboration that is expected to make a significant difference to South Africa on a socio-economic level.
Workshop 17 is an innovation hub modelled on the world renowned Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Media Lab in Cambridge, Massachusetts USA. It is a dedicated physical space to invent, prototype and test emerging products, create new business models, services and start businesses aligned to African markets. This shared innovation model will provide a collaborative living laboratory for the greatest minds, social innovators, entrepreneurs, foundations, government and industry players on the continent.
David Green, CEO of the V&A Waterfront says: “Enterprise development is key to economic development in South Africa and economic growth requires business leaders and business schools to assume moral custodianship and work together with partners to create a supportive environment that fosters enterprise business development in our country. Significant job creation can only come from entrepreneurship and innovation.”
“The FT Global rankings consistently rank the GSB as Africa’s top business school, and in collaboration with the V&A Waterfront, Workshop 17 will become the place globally to realise and apply radical new ideas to the business, social and environmental opportunities we face in Africa,” says Professor Baets, Director of GSB.
The project will bring together people who innovate and develop ideas, funders and those who can commercialise the ideas, in one dedicated space called Workshop 17. Once home to the SA Maritime Museum, Workshop 17 is situated parallel to the Robinson Dry Dock at the V&A Waterfront. The building occupies the site of the original Electric Light and Power Station that was built circa 1890.
Founding Director of the Workshop 17 initiative, GSB’s Tamsin Jones calls it the “big warehouse with the big vision” and says that the initiative will leverage the GSB’s strengths in business model design, inclusive innovation and systems thinking.
The MIT Media Lab has been an engine of innovation for 27 years, and is a key inspiration for the Workshop 17 model. If MIT were a country it would have the 11th largest economy for its efforts.  Its Entrepreneur in Residence, Mr. Julius Akinyemi, is currently in Cape Town to assist with the establishment of Workshop 17.
The V&A Waterfront and the GSB share a vision to be a world-class hub for innovation and entrepreneurship through excellence and collaboration. By partnering with the top university in Africa, Workshop 17 will be positioned as a unique and powerful node in the growing network of hubs across the continent.
“It is a great honour that the V&A Waterfront is able to offer South Africa Workshop 17 as its legacy social investment project with the optimism that many prosperous business ideas and enterprises will develop from this project. The responsibility we have, and using the platform we have to facilitate this, goes beyond commercial.” says Green.
A 2013 Masters programme is the first project stream for Workshop 17. Akinyemi, Visiting Fellow to the programme, says that the multi-disciplinary and collaborative approach of this new Masters is a key component of Workshop 17.
This approach teams up discipline experts with all members of the community to allow designers, engineers, artists, scientists and users to work together and to explore pressing challenges anew. The fuel to innovate is created when people with ideas, expertise, life experience, and passion, come together with free reign and in an environment poised to support new possibilities.
Development work on the existing Workshop 17 space for this innovation hub will start in early 2013. The initial R1.5 million of funding came from the Bertha Centre for Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship, which is committed to action on social innovations for positive, creative shifts to create a better future for all on the African continent and is based at the GSB. Additionally, the UCT Vice-Chancellor’s Strategic Fund has made R3,6 million available to fund operational costs. The GSB is now seeking corporate and foundation partners and members to refit Workshop 17 to refit the physical Workshop.
“Workshop 17 is another landmark step for the GSB, the V&A Waterfront, and for the City of Cape Town – as well as for this continent. We are creating an innovation ecosystem for the next generation of doers,” says Jones.