The primary user group that my innovation is targeting is students with disabilities.
The innovation is a retractable backpack umbrella that protects an individual from the rain or harmful UV rays. Ultimately, the straps of the backpack will contain a mechanism that will allow you to pull the straps and open the umbrella, adjust its height to the user’s preference and close and retract the umbrella back into the backpack.
The Centre of Social Entrepreneurship at the Durban University of Technology (DUT) was the perfect setting for Siphiwe Zuma to tell us more about his innovation since his innovation was both created and solved at DUT.
What problem/s are you trying to address with your innovation?
As a student with a disability, I experienced the problem of always getting wet from the rain because I could not use an umbrella while I was using crutches to move around between home and Durban University of Technology (DUT) campus, as well as between classes while on campus.
What has been the toughest challenge/s to overcome in your innovation journey?
The most challenging part of my innovation journey so far has been moving from the concept of a retractable backpack to the physical product. The prototyping phase has involved numerous tests and there were various obstacles that needed to be overcome and needs that had to be addressed.
Where do you see yourself and your innovation in 5 years’ time?
In the next 5 years I will complete product development and will work with universities to develop a financing scheme linked to assisted living support that is received by students with disabilities. This will mean that students with disabilties are able to access this innovation without concern of how they will pay for it. And although the innovation is targeting students with disabilities on all South African higher education campuses, there has been interest from parents with children because children lose their umbrellas, as well as interest from other able-bodied individuals. Therefore, my innovation could expand its customer base.
What has been the biggest lesson so far?
Siphiwe emphasises that as an innovator you should not put all your efforts into one single funder because they can let you down completely by not delivering on the promise of funding which can derail your plans. In other cases, funders can delay the innovation process due to their own internal processes. Futhermore, he notes that his biggest lesson is that consistency is key. In other words, as an innovator it is important to work continuously in order to see progress because the innovation journey is a long one.
Support was received from Innovate Durban through their Youth Innovation Challenge as well as tremendous support from the DUT’s Centre for Social Enterprise which has enabled Siphiwe to develop the prototypes.