College of College of Graduate Studies

Unisa students ignite tomorrow's solutions

Unisa hosted the 12th Research and Innovation Festival from 27 November to 1 December 2023. The goal of this event was to bring together Unisa staff, students, stakeholders and important industry professionals, to discuss innovation, commercialisation and entrepreneurship in general. The event served as a forum for faculty, students and Unisa-affiliated start-ups to demonstrate their ideas, including the award ceremony for top performers in the honours, master’s and PhD research categories.


Students displaying their awards, flanked by various deans of colleges, vice-principals and portfolio management.

The last day of the innovation festival saw students showcasing their inventions to a panel of industry judges in several categories, which included the Forge Awards. Amongst the panellists were Tshembani Khupane, Senior Programme Manager, Seed Fund Technology Innovation Agency, Dr Hamilton Mphidi, Innovation and Technology Transfer Head, Tshwane University of Technology, and Dr Phuti Chelopo Mgobozi, Acting Senior Manager, Bio-Economy, The Innovation Hub.

Disrupting old thinking patterns

In her opening address, Unisa’s Chief Information Officer, and Vice-Principal: Information and Communication Technology, Mathabo Nakene-Mginqi, spoke on the theme Are you connected to the WHY of your work? She said that if one is developing a product, it sells to the people who believe in one’s "why". She stated that if one is going to be a leader that innovates, it starts with disrupting one. She continued: "You have to deconstruct yourself and put yourself together again in order to be innovative and look at things from a different perspective."


Mathabo Nakene-Mginqi

Nakene-Mginqi explained that being an innovative leader in this era, one must understand the process of innovation and how this will affect one’s ideas. She said that by understanding why we think the way we think – what happened in our childhood and the things that affect our decision-making aspect and the conversations we have with ourselves - we can begin the journey towards disrupting ourselves and old patterns of thinking. She continued: "I disrupted myself from my old thinking patterns in order to be in the role that I am in now. I deconstructed who I am, and this journey starts with you."

Nakene-Mginqi remarked that innovative leaders lead by questioning and challenging the status quo. She said that it becomes possible to lead by questioning through observation and experimenting, "because" she continued, "if we are conscious of the way we think, we can begin managing our biases". 

"Innovation is not just for specialists, but also for those in administrative and teaching and learning roles," said Nakene-Mginqi. In conclusion, she congratulated the students receiving awards, and remarked that they should continue the journey to deconstruct and reconstruct themselves.

The ceremony recognised outstanding achievements in various categories, awarding winners across the Choice Awards, Student Showcase Awards, The Forge Awards, The Crucible Awards, the #Posted the Most Awards, and the College of Science, Engineering and Technology (CSET)/College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences (CAES) Awards.

Best exhibition awards

  • First prize: Membrane Water Treatment exhibition, by Dr Oranso Mahlangu, Institute for Nanotechnology and Water Sustainability, CSET.
  • Second prize: Craft Beer exhibition, by Chemical Engineering students, CSET
  • Third prize: Soap Exhibition, by Chemical Engineering Students, CSET and Solar car exhibition by Mechanical Engineering students, CSET (joint award).

Oral presentations

Natural and Physical Sciences (master’s category):

  • Nonkululeko Malomane
  • Thabo Creswell Dhlamini, first-runner up
  • Michelle Nicolene van Wyk, second runner-up

Doctoral category

  • Oyandi Sentse

Social Sciences, Honours and Postgraduate Diploma category

  • Benjamin Chayamiti,
  • Khumbulani Cele, first runner-up

Master's category

  • Thipe Samuel Maleasenya

Arts and Humanities, Honours and Postgraduate Diploma category

  • Noxlolo Nwabisa Mbuli

Master's category

  • Ramel Arrey Afong
  • Tapuwa Mahefu, first runner-up
  • Lawrence Walambuka, second runner-up


Seated (middle row) from left: Mathabo Nakene-Mginqi, Chief Information Officer and Vice-Principal: Information and Communication Technology; Prof Mpine Makoe, Executive Dean: College of Education; and Prof Thenjiwe Meyiwa, Vice-Principal: Research, Postgraduate Studies, Innovation and Commercialisation, together with the winners of the 12th Research and Innovation Festival.

The Forge Awards

The Forge Awards is a programme to support Unisa students to develop innovative solutions to societal challenges. The participants went through a rigorous assessment and training processes that start with regional and virtual pitching sessions, which are followed by an intensive three-day training on the mechanics of translating ideas into viable businesses. There were 118 pitches in total and 15 finalists competing for the prize on offer, which includes funding up to R100 000, entry into the start-up academy, mentoring and international exposure.


  • Harry Ngwangwa
  • Gift Dialwe Mokgotsi
  • Sibongiseni Nhlabathi
  • Bonginkosi Mabaso
  • Felicia Palesa Mhlanga

The event once again provided a platform for students to showcase their innovative ideas and inventions geared towards solving the needs of the society and preparing them to be the next generation of inventors and entrepreneurs under the auspices of the Unisa, various sponsors and stakeholders.

* By Godfrey Madibane, Acting Journalist, Department of Institutional Advancement

** Photography by Multimedia Centre

Publish date: 2023/12/06

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