​The first cohort of Stellenbosch University graduates, SU faculty and corporate employees successfully completed the first 6-week programme of the newly established SU Techpreneurship Centre in March this year. At the end of the program, 90% of SU graduates were interviewed by local technology companies, and 70% of them were offered full-time internships. The Techpreneurship Centre is creating a valuable link between academia and exciting South African technology companies.

The SU Techpreneurship Centre is a new data science and entrepreneurial development upskilling initiative developed by the SU LaunchLab, the University’s technology and entrepreneurship incubator, in collaboration with the SU School for Data Science and Computational Thinking, intending to provide participants with industry-relevant technology and entrepreneurship skills.

SU LaunchLab CEO Joshua Romisher views the success of the initial cohort as a huge verification of an innovative hybrid model that brings together various SU Facilities and affiliated entrepreneurial service providers such as SU LaunchLab . “In terms of SU’s Vision 2040, the initiative contributes to creating a transformative student experience in that this learning journey will provide a seamless transition into the workforce through practical experience with SU LaunchLab startups and its partners,” said Romisher.

Altus Viljoen, coordinator of the Techpreneurship Centre, says they received 70 applications altogether for the first 6-week “Bootcamp” held from 1 February to 12 March this year. The majority of the 18 participants were engineering graduates, followed by participants with backgrounds in mathematics, economic and management sciences, computer science, natural sciences and humanities. Participants’ qualification levels ranged from bachelor’s up to doctoral level.

​“During the 6-week programme the participants acquired new industry-relevant technical data science, machine learning, cloud computing and IT soft skills. They were also given insight into the fundamentals of entrepreneurship in terms of personal development and growth, as well as developing an entrepreneurial mindset through design thinking,” said Viljoen.  “We have also seen great interest in the employability of our graduates – companies have interviewed 90% of our graduates seeking internships, and 70% have received offers so far”.

Prof Stan du Plessis, SU’s Chief Operations Officer, said University’s investment into the LaunchLab is proving to be a sound one. “When we made funds available from SU’s Strategic Fund, we expected a good return. So far, our expectations have been exceeded. It is heartwarming to know that we are bridging the gap between the academic world and the private sector with a creative programme that gives each participant the tools to make a smooth transition into work life.”

One of the participants, Tanya Meyer, says the Techpreneurship Centre programme was instrumental in fast-tracking progress for her MEng research project in Machine Learning and Data Science. “It skyrocketed my Python programming skillset whilst developing my previously non-existent, soft tech skills with lots of guest speaker talks, entrepreneurship sessions and colleague collaboration.”

Viljoen says they are planning to host another three of these programmes in 2021. The next one will take place in June, and they will soon announce a call for applications. For anyone interested in attending the next Techpreneurship Centre programme, hiring skilled data science graduates, or finding out more about the initiative in general, please contact Altus Viljoen at altus@launchlab.co.za.​