Fostering Innovation and Empowering Entrepreneurs: The Impact of CUTIS’ SMME Innovation Programme

In collaboration with Admond Capital Seed and Growth Engine (ACSeedE), CUTIS (Pty) Ltd launched a groundbreaking SMME Innovation Programme in the first quarter of 2023. This initiative demonstrates CUTIS’ unwavering commitment to creating a nurturing environment where start-ups and entrepreneurs can thrive, translating research findings into commercially viable products or services, promoting the concept of technology entrepreneurship, and accelerating the entrepreneurial process by providing support to new ventures. The primary objective of this programme was to foster the development of innovative snack food, functional beverages, and economical food options, with the ultimate goal of attracting investment from the Tiger Brands Venture Capital (VC) Fund. This strategic initiative aligns perfectly with CUTIS vision of becoming a sought-after destination for investors seeking promising investment opportunities. By cultivating an environment that fosters innovation and creativity, CUTIS aims to empower local entrepreneurs and transform their ideas into promising commercial products.

On 3 May, sixteen entities, including CUT student start-up companies, gathered at the i-Gym to kickstart the program.

Figure 1: Participants at the i-Gym on 3rd May


Throughout the day-long event, participants had the invaluable opportunity to closely collaborate with experts from the venture capital and angel investor network, accelerating their entrepreneurial journey and gaining the necessary support to turn their concepts into successful businesses. The participants displayed unwavering commitment and actively engaged in this transformative experience.

Following a rigorous screening process, three entities emerged as the finalists, earning the opportunity to pitch their ideas for potential investment from the Tiger Brands VC Fund. Among them was CUT’s Centre for Applied Food Sustainability and Biotechnology (CAFSaB), presenting their innovative non-alcoholic beverage, Rooibos Blend KOMBUCHA. This achievement further exemplifies how CUTIS’ strategic efforts are yielding tangible results and attracting significant attention from renowned investors.

On 29 May, Mr. Sarvesh Seetaram, Managing Partner of the Tiger Brands VC Fund, accompanied by Mr. Simphiwe Duma, Managing Partner and CTO of Admond Capital, visited CUT. The delegation, hosted by CUTIS, embarked on a comprehensive tour, exploring the i-Gym, PDTS, and the renowned CRPM, to witness the remarkable competencies and capabilities housed within these innovative support units. The tour culminated with a visit to CAFSaB, where the team presented their impressive Rooibos Blend KOMBUCHA product.

Figure 2: At the CUT, the Tiger Brands team toured the Centre for Applied Food Sustainability and Biotechnology (CAFSaB), Centre for Rapid Prototyping and Manufacturing (CRPM), Product Development Technology Station (PTDS), and the I-Gym.

From left: Ms Puleng Zacharia: Technical Assistant- CUTBrew, Mr Fred Matongo, Director: Innovation & Technology Transfer and Dr Olga de Smidt, Deputy Director: CAFSaB, Mr Simphiwe Duma, Managing Partner: ACSeedE, Mr Sarvesh Seetaram, Managing Director – Business Development (Grains) at Tiger Brands and a member of the VC Fund Management Committee; Ms Precious Tsolo: Part Time Lecturer- Life Sciences, Prof Ryk Lues, Director: CAFSaB


Subsequently, the delegation visited the other two shortlisted entities. Buttercup Farmhouse, operating from the University of the Free State (UFS), showcased their organic vegetable coffee, while Sense Food, situated at iTau Milling (Pty) Ltd, presented their exceptional infant and toddler snacking products. Each pitch exuded dedication, passion, and innovation.

After careful evaluation, the Tiger Brands VC Fund expressed their intent to consider investing in all three entities. Over the next six months, CUTIS will work closely with the chosen entities, offering guidance and support, with the ultimate goal of facilitating the investment to these companies by Tiger Brands VC, further solidifying CUTIS’ position as a catalyst for growth and innovation in the entrepreneurial ecosystem. ACSeedE, recognizing the immense potential of these ventures, has pledged a startup acceleration package worth R150,000 per company, encompassing Venture Management Services such as coaching, mentoring, and business support expertise. This additional support highlights the dedication of CUTIS and its partners to nurturing entrepreneurship and driving success for the winning entities.

The success of this programme not only showcases CUTIS’ dedication to promoting entrepreneurship and supporting startups in the region but also strengthens the capability of SMMEs to contribute to the socio-economic development of the region. By empowering these entities and fostering an environment for innovation, CUTIS strives to ultimately drive positive change in the local business landscape.

CUTIS extends its warmest congratulations to these exceptional entrepreneurs on reaching this significant milestone and commends them for their remarkable entrepreneurial spirit. Through initiatives like the SMME Innovation Programme, CUTIS remains steadfast in its pursuit of transforming the region’s entrepreneurial landscape, driving innovation, and fostering socio-economic development.