Precious metals miner Sibanye-Stillwater soft-launched its iXS programme during the Wits Mining Institute’s yearly DigiMine seminar on September 30 as a means to incubate and grow South African innovators and entrepreneurs with solutions for a modern mining industry.
Sibanye-Stillwater technology and innovation head Alex Fenn said the company had worked on developing the programme over the past year. iXS stands for innovate, xcellerate (read as accelerate) and scale.
The iXS programme, he noted, was an innovation investment programme that develops innovators and entrepreneurs and supports the start-up community through financial investment for commercialisation support.
“This is to ensure those products [they develop and produce] are sustainable for our adoption.”
Fenn explained that iXS was a measured approach that Sibanye-Stillwater still needed to prove and was therefore relatively small. If other industries joined Sibanye-Stillwater in this development, it would result in a more beneficial innovation landscape within South Africa, he added.
Sibanye-Stillwater chose to develop iXS as a result of the company spending a lot of time and effort on good governance, which meant that, before it expends capital or operational expenditure on a product, the company needed to ensure the resource allocation thereto was governed appropriately.
Also, he said Sibanye-Stillwater, through developing entrepreneurs and innovators, hopes to support businesses that do not necessary have innovative and entrepreneurial capacity internally.
The objectives of the iXS programme are to attract and develop expertise to solve mining-related issues with novel entrepreneurial and innovative solutions.
Elaborating, Fenn explained that iXS was not necessarily aimed at innovations and entrepreneurship for mining as a core business, but instead was aimed at addressing systemic mining issues, and where the mining industry did not necessarily have the skills in-house.
A second objective was to progress technology from fundamental applied-research, through to a commercially-adoptable variant of a product. “We want to do this by funding the trial of that technology and establish processes for the adoption of industry in general, and potentially globally,” he said.
The third objective was to develop South African businesses with mining-related technology and solutions to a commercial level with the potential for global application.
iXS is divided into two separate programmes, the first being an incubator or development centre. This is focussed on developing innovators and entrepreneurs.
“[These include] high-capacity and high-quality people that have very good ideas, or are very entrepreneurial and [the programme is aimed at] ensuring they have base-level skills that they can use to support businesses going forward in the South African context to make sure we can develop technology to the extent that it is potentially exportable,” noted Fenn.
The second programme is a development fund, which is a capital investment programme in support of the development and implementation of South African-generated innovation in the form of pre-seed and seed funding.
This is executed as a venture investment through equity with potentially convertible debt, he said.
Going forward, in the first year of its implementation, Sibanye-Stillwater intends to use a measured approach to understanding the concept/s it intends to scale; and if they are appropriate for the organisation, establish a cohort of three entrepreneurs and two innovators in the first year.
“We would also like to pre-seed three small companies and seed two others in terms of the development of their products to commercially-adoptable levels,” stated Fenn.
iXS will be initiated towards the end of this year, in an effort to have the first cohort in place in 2022.
Sibanye-Stillwater has partnered with Cape Town-based Savant Capital, which works to incubate small businesses.
“We are looking to leverage that expertise [small business incubation] to ensure that Sibanye-Stillwater can propel the innovation landscape in South Africa to new heights,” Fenn said.