By: Anna Majavu
Innovative small businesses that use local materials to design furniture and other useful products can apply for two new grants and low-interest loans from the Technology Innovation Agency (TIA) and the National Empowerment Fund (NEF). The TIA, based in the Department of Science and Innovation, has announced a second round of funding for “grassroots innovators” who invent products that solve a South African problem.
The funds can be used to develop a totally new product or take a product up to the prototype stage. The TIA is looking for individuals or teams of entrepreneurs of any age “who undertake innovations to solve local challenges using local resources and capabilities through working outside the realm of formal innovation institutions.”. The applicants must own the intellectual property rights to the product they are hoping to develop, must not have access to other funding, and have to enter a two-year programme to help develop their business.
The invention must be technically and financially feasible, demonstrate a clear social impact, and have the ability to eventually be produced and sold commercially. The TIA said it would support the entrepreneurs to produce a prototype, register it, and secure industry compliance and certification. Innovators have until December 15, 2023, to apply online at https://funding.tia.org.za/gateway. The NEF, meanwhile, has announced low-interest loans of up to R5 million for SMMEs that design and make furniture from local materials. This includes mattresses, school furniture, and built-in kitchen units.
The NEF is aiming, through the loans, to grow black economic participation in the furniture industry. The loans can be paid back over seven years at a zero to five percent interest rate. “The NEF is targeting SMEs at various stages of development, inclusive of start-up operations, for both capital assets and working capital as well as expansion capital. The Furniture Fund also extends to SMEs that intend to purchase existing businesses as going concerns,” NEF spokesperson Moemise Motsepe told Vutivi News.
The Furniture Fund would only disburse funds to local businesses that were tax-registered, black-owned, and commercially viable, Motsepe added. “All furniture products are supported. For competitive advantage, the industry is encouraged to be innovative and creative, to put the country’s best foot forward in potentially unlocking export opportunities,” said Motsepe. SMMEs who will create or maintain jobs if they are awarded the funding will also be prioritised. The NEF will also connect the SMMEs with furniture retailers. Applicants should email firstname.lastname@example.org for an application form.