14/03/2014, AERAP: Ideal platform to advance investment in innovation in Africa

General Info

Start date:2014-03-14

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AERAP hosted a breakfast meeting on 11 March 2014, which explored the options for supporting the contribution of venture capital to radio astronomy in Africa.

Brussels, March 13, 2014: On the occasion of the 2014 Innovation Convention, the African European Radio Astronomy Platform (AERAP) hosted a breakfast meeting on 11 March 2014, which explored the options for supporting the contribution of venture capital to radio astronomy in Africa and contributed to the debate on how investment in Africa-EU radio astronomy partnerships will support economic growth and human capital development.

The following speakers from various backgrounds and expertise contributed to the meeting:

  • Declan Kirrane - Managing Director, ISC Intelligence in Science
  • Barbara James - Founder and CEO of Henshaw Capital Partners
  • Mae Jemison - Former NASA astronaut, Head of the 100 Year Starship initiative
  • Kurt Zatloukal - Vice-chair of the Institute of Pathology, Medical University of Graz
  • Lizbeth Goodman - Chair of Creative Technology Innovation

Ms Barbara James, the founder and CEO of Henshaw Capital Partners in Nigeria, opened the discussion by highlighting the important role of venture capital in innovation, particularly in African countries.

In her speech, Ms James stressed that at the moment, the pace of development in venture capital is very slow and it is inevitable to significantly accelerate it, in order for African countries to be on a good track in keeping up with the global rate of development. In the same vein, she briefed the participants about the role of investors, fund managers, angel networks and policy makers in supporting venture capital, while emphasising the need for bringing more structure and formality into the investment process.

Dr Mae Jemison, the first African American woman to travel in space, introduced her main project titled “100 Year Starship”, which aims at making interstellar travel a reality in the next 100 years. In this context, she highlighted the importance of multi-disciplinary collaboration across borders, to be able to invent sustainable mechanisms and techniques which would allow us to travel to another star within the next 100 years.

Dr Jemison also emphasised the important role of AERAP in serving as a platform to enable major research and technological advances, which can besides radio astronomy, have a significant impact across a wide range of other disciplines.

Speakers agreed that one of the major obstacles in our society is the focus on and need of short term results. Ms James spoke of the importance in long term investment, while Dr Jemison agreed explaining that, “100 Year Starship allows us to think long term, very long term, which is something completely new in our society”.

In the context of AERAP, the speakers also touched upon the importance of research infrastructures, using the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) as an example of a major innovation showcase which illustrates the vast research and innovation capabilities of African countries, which need to be explored further by means of international collaboration.

Research infrastructures were also mentioned by Prof Kurt Zatloukal from the Medical University of Graz, who coordinated the Biobanking and Biomolecular Resources Research Infrastructure (BBMRI) project. BBMRI was one of the first projects entering the European Research Infrastructure preparatory phase of the ESFRI roadmap funded by the European Commission (EC).

BBMRI presents an important infrastructure to further develop the European Research Area and to achieve the strategic R&D goals of Europe. At the same time, it could become a door opener for building EU-Africa partnerships in research and development and other industry sectors.

Prof Zatloukal also spoke about the need to build competencies for the whole innovation chain and that, when it comes to Africa, “You cannot just ‘copy paste’ solutions that work in Europe, you need to fundamentally understand the issues and specifically tailor the solutions to address these issues”.

Throughout the discussion, focus was also placed on the need for interdisciplinary collaboration across borders in order to achieve major technological advances and innovations, which was also a topic explored by Prof Lizbeth Goodman.

The core argument she emphasised was the need for change in the structure and functioning of universities. The idea here is to create a new concept for universities which would allow for more innovative thinking, less rigid structure of the study programmes, and more collaboration across disciplines which offers more freedom and creativity. “What’s needed is the flexibility to support interdisciplinary thinking” Goodman said.

The meeting resulted in a fruitful discussion amongst the speakers and the participants, and allowed them to explore the possibilities for collaboration and joint action with regards to their projects. The meeting was followed by bilateral meetings, which created a platform for further discussion targeted to specific project ideas.

As a continuation to this meeting, AERAP will organise a seminar on 2 April 2014 in the context of the 4th Africa-EU Summit and the 5th EU-Africa Business Forum. Bringing together high-level policy-makers, leading entrepreneurs, and top researchers and scientists, the seminar will engage the participants in a focused discussion on the role of industry in Africa-EU science capacity building cooperation.


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ISC Intelligence in Science 

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Jessica Hadjis

ISC Intelligence in Science

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Editor’s Note

The African-European Radio Astronomy Platform (AERAP)

AERAP  is a response to the calls of the European Parliament, through the adoption of the Written Declaration 45/2011, and of the Heads of State of the African Union, through their decision “Assembly/AU/Dec.407 CXVIII”, for radio astronomy to be a priority focus area for Africa-EU cooperation. AERAP is a stakeholder forum of industry, academia and the public sector established to define and implement priorities for radio astronomy cooperation between Africa and Europe.

The overall goals of the platform are to leverage radio astronomy, advance scientific discovery, improve knowledge transfer and stimulate competitiveness across both continents. The platform will also enable effective dialogue to build a shared vision for international cooperation in radio astronomy.

Further information on AERAP: www.aerap.org 


Henshaw Capital Partners

Henshaw promotes the venture capital and private equity industry in Nigeria and develops private equity and venture capital products and services that catalyse the industry. It also promotes institutions for private equity and venture capital and raises awareness of private equity and venture capital among stakeholders – institutional investors, entrepreneurs, fund managers, policy makers and service providers.

Further information on Henshaw Capital Partners: www.henshawnigeria.com


100 Year Starship

100 Year Starship designs and implements independent, collaborative and open-source projects to advance and promote the public engagement, research, development and capabilities needed for humans to reach another star.

Further information on 100 YSS: www.100yss.org 



BBMRI (Biobanking and Biomolecular Resources Research Infrastructure) was one of the first projects entering the European Research Infrastructure preparatory phase of the ESFRI roadmap funded by the European Commission (EC). The preparatory phase of BBMRI came to its end in January 2011. Over the past 3 years BBMRI has grown into a 54-member consortium with more than 225 associated organisations (largely biobanks) from over 30 countries, making it one of the largest research infrastructure projects in Europe.

Further information on BBMRI: www.bbmri.eu


Creative Technology Innovation - SMARTlab

The aim of the SMARTlab is to work across sectors and disciplines to instigate and support positive cultural change. The SMARTlab insists on an ethical and socially responsible community collaboration model, which informs and enriches the academic domain by encouraging teams of artists and cultural sector creators to work closely across disciplinary boundaries to invent new models and tools for learning.

Further information on SMARTlab: www.smartlab-ie.com