GLF is a division of Wits Health Consortium.


Expectations that industry will continue to drive economic growth are receding. Instead, the key economic actor is likely to be organisations originating from or closely associated with entrepreneurial universities, whose approach demonstrates an interactive bilateral flow of influence between the universities and an increasingly knowledge-based society, superseding the traditionally linear model of innovation. The entrepreneurial ‘Triple/Quadruple/Quintuple Helix’ in which universities interact with industry, government (and public / environment) is becoming the central focus of innovation theory and practice in different societies. The entrepreneurial university is the most well-articulated theory in the evolution of the university towards the requirements of the knowledge-based society / Fourth industrial revolution (4IR).

The scientist is the only entity that can translate basic research discoveries through an entrepreneurial approach. The institution should support and incentivise the scientist to develop a translational research approach (in addition to their basic research agenda) as a platform for engaging with society in general, and industry in particular. As universities adapt strategies to take their place as primary actors in the knowledge-based economy, the changes which are necessary to the character of the institution and academic identity of faculty should not be underestimated; universities will need evolve from an ivory-tower approach to one primarily based on engagement, academics will need to develop an entrepreneurial/business mindset and the nature of academic endeavour will need to ensure basic research is matched with translational research (mode-1 and mode-2). 


The knowledge- based economy has heralded new approaches to knowledge generation in response to complex societal needs, challenges, and opportunities. Innovation is achieved through translation of research findings into novel products that can be commercialised, so called mode 1 translation. Process and service innovations, mode 2 translation, are achieved through novel utilisation of resources, organisational arrangements and processes, with knowledge produced within and external to university settings involving ever increasing and complex partnership arrangements. Both modes of knowledge generation and translation are focusing on ever more complex problems requiring multi-pronged, multi-disciplinary approaches. Current University thinking around academic entrepreneurship approaches are confined to commercialisation of innovation through intellectual property protection (patents/trademarks). But the more complex mode 2 approach demands that successful knowledge generation and innovation partnerships will become more important than IP protection. Universities will need to think more like corporations as partners in new knowledge-based organisations, services, and products, rather than the only commercial relationship being IP usage arrangements.


Universities can take a centre stage in the world by being the main actors in the knowledge-based economy where knowledge is not a secondary sector (training primary sector employees, producers of basic research provided to primary sectors via royalty arrangements), but rather a primary economic sector. Universities are expected to be enablers and leaders of regional economic and social development during knowledge economy development. Today, the role of the modern university rises above just teaching and conducting primary research. It incorporates the high demand for science, technology, and innovation as the foundations of a knowledge economy. The mere presence of a leading research universities does not mean that it will trigger economic growth. Universities are expected to act as providers of both public and private good regarding education and research as well as playing historically well-established roles in terms of applied problem solving. The days of being ivory towers are over, universities are progressively viewed as the drivers of innovation and change

With this understanding, Universities can position themselves in line with triple-, quadruple- and quintuple-helix approaches – inculcating the engaged approach in their core DNA – basically an evolution of the university third mission objects accepted as part of the university structure. Universities will need to develop a corporate approach if they are to participate in the economy directly which will have quite significant implications for current leadership structures. Triple-Quadruple- and quintuple-helix approaches can assist in this regard. The Triple Helix (three Helix) model tries to capture the interaction between innovation stakeholders. It’s a demonstration of what the university, local business and government can profit from cooperation/partnerships to generate innovative environment. The model brings the university at the forefront of innovation on an equal footing as industry and government. In the knowledge -based society the interaction of university, industry and government is core for innovation. The role of industry in Triple Helix is that of a locust production, government acts as a source of contractual relationship that guarantees stable interaction and exchange while the university is a source of knowledge and technology. Industry and government have always been major institutions in modern society and the university is being elevated to an equivalent status in a knowledge-based society.


Academics need to learn how to engage in the new modes of knowledge generation and translation which is not traditionally taught in University settings. Placing the academic at the centre of development, the University needs to find ways to financially support, mentor and guide academics. Examples may include development and commercialisation of traditional products and services, development of sustainable research entities that create employment opportunities for new post graduate students that in turn develops their own academic entrepreneurial skills, partial funding of clinicians to enable more of their time to be spent on research, new organisations of health services and modes of healthcare delivery involving electronic information systems to integrate care services with greater efficiencies

The University may consider to catalyse and enable such academic activation through the establishment and support of entities (such as our Great Leap Forward initiative) that specialise in and focus exclusively on nurturing and mentoring of academics to achieve their own entrepreneurial activation. The University may consider ways to attract mentors and coaches to support academics to achieve entrepreneurial activation and translation and scaling of their innovations within various disciplines. The University may also consider new methods of selecting, evaluating, and rewarding their academics to encourage ever increasing entrepreneurial activation and translated innovation.


In a world of globalisation Universities are regarded as national assets. Governments are seeing Universities as sources of new knowledge and innovation, providers of skilled personnel with credible credentials and as contributors to innovation. Universities attract international talent and business investment into their regional reach and act as agents of societal and social justice and contribute to social and cultural sustainability.

Universities can harness, embrace, and evolve is by embracing a knowledge-based economy by encouraging the following:

  • Foster communities of practice
  • Encourage collegial support and mentorship
  • Breakdown the barriers to success by encouraging an enabling environment
  • Support academics to redefine their identity by creating a caring space where academic staff can grow personally and professionally
  • Embrace changes in existing funding models and start influencing knowledge as a primary economic sector and what this means for Universities to generate income
  • Engage directly with Society.
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