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A Durban University of Technology (DUT) entrepreneur, Dr Olusegun Ayodeji Olagunju, who co-owns a spin-off company called Zah Biofuels, was announced as the second prize winner in the 2023 Alliance of Guangzhou International Sister-City Universities (GISU) Urban Innovation and Entrepreneurship Final Competition, which was recently held in Padova, Italy.

The theme of the annual competition was “Promoting Sustainable Urban Development with Scientific and Technological Innovation, focusing on Science Entrepreneurship.” The Alliance of Guangzhou International Sister-City Universities (GISU) currently includes 20 members and affiliate members, representing five continents, 17 countries, 19 sister and friendly cities. DUT is a proud member of this alliance.

Dr Olagunju is a Faculty Research Coordinator in the Faculty of Engineering and the Built Environment at DUT, where he oversees research related activities within the Faculty. At the finals, Dr Olagunju competed against 14 other dynamic spin-off company owners which included two from DUT, namely; Dr Nokuthula Mavela, who owns Ewah Cosmeceuticals and Dr Oluwatoyin Joseph Gbadeyan, founder of Black Composite Brake.

Speaking about his accolade, Dr Olagunju, who attended the ceremony online, indicated that it was mind-blowing to hear his name being announced as a second prize winner in the prestigious competition. He was pleased to see that his entrepreneurial venture could stand a chance to compete on a global stage.

He expressed his gratitude to his mentor, Professor Keolebogile Motaung, Director of Technology, Transfer and Innovation at DUT, for alerting him and preparing him for this competition. He thanked her for sharing her extensive experience and deep understanding of the innovation landscape. Dr Olagunju believes that his win would not have been possible without the guidance and support from Prof Motaung.

“Prior to the winners being announced, our team, which also included Ms Busisiwe Zulu, had to conduct a presentation on our company, for the knowledgeable panel of judges. Only two South African universities were represented in the finals, that is Durban University of Technology and Stellenbosch University. Other finalists were from universities in Europe, Asia and Australia. I am happy to announce that we were first in Africa to win this prize. This proves that our product is not a fly by night, as lots of research has been invested into it. We see it as a way of solving a problem that is affecting the economy, society and the country,” said Dr Olagunju.

Their company, Zah Biofuels, aims to promote sustainable eco-friendly biofuels. It recycles or produces liquid biofuels from waste and plastics. Dr Olagunju indicated that through Zah Biofuels they are trying to solve two problems at once; one being the eradication of waste management through the use of waste plastics, which was the second largest waste produced worldwide.

“South Africa is producing about 1.3 million tons of the plastic waste on an annual basis. It becomes a problem in terms of this waste being dumped on landsites and having some of it finding its way to the ocean. We are trying to eradicate this waste by using it to produce renewable fuel, which can be a substitute to the current fossil fuel that we currently use in South Africa. We are trying to reduce the footprint of carbon emission into the atmosphere. We eradicate or manage waste through the converting of these wastes into useful products using our cutting edge technology,” explained Dr Olagunju.

He believes his prize will open more doors for his company as he will be in contact with other strategic organisations that will assist in accelerating the product and establishing it as a full-fledged company.

Aligning his research to the DUT ENVISION2030 strategy, Dr Olagunju said: “It highlights entrepreneurship, innovative ventures and the creation of job opportunities as it is a product that stems out from research that was conducted over a four-year period, which was turned into a business.” He indicated that these were some of the core values of ENVISION2030, in terms of entrepreneurial ventures. He indicated that once his business was full-fledged, it will create more than a 1000 direct and indirect job.

The DUT Technology, Transfer and Innovation (TTI) Director, Prof Keolebogile Motaung shared her congratulatory remarks to Dr Olagunju and the other three entrepreneurs from DUT who were finalists in this competition. The DUT finalists also included a student entrepreneur, Zime Nxumalo, who competed in the start-up category. She is a third-year Information and Communications Technology student who is the founder and CEO of a start-up company, Zime Wezwe Creatives.

“ I am so proud of the four DUT entrepreneurs for reaching the finals of the 2023 GISU Urban Innovation and Entrepreneurship Competition. Well done to Dr Olusegun Olagunju for winning the second prize in this prestigious event. I hope this will inspire other researchers to not only conduct research to sit on the library shelves but they must also make sure that they turn their research into viable businesses. We at DUT are here to assist them in doing so, however, they must be willing to put in the determination and grit as being an entrepreneur, which requires hard work and dedication,” said Prof Motaung.

Pictured: Dr Olusegun Olagunju who scooped second prize at the 2023 GISU Urban Innovation and Entrepreneurship Final Competition.

Photography: DUT Multimedia

Simangele Zuma

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