5th Annual SPARK Global Meeting – personal view of Dr Richard Lessells and Gugulethu Mkhize

Author: Richard Lessells & Gugulethu Mkhize - 2019-10-02

The meeting started with a fantastic reception at the New South Wales Parliament House. There we were welcomed by Professor Daria Mochley-Rosen (founder and director of SPARK) and by the local host and friend of KRISP Durban, Professor Michael Wallach (University of Technology Sydney). There were also talks from local and international politicians, highlighting the strong relationships that many SPARK partners have around the world.

The highlight of the night though was the singing of the children’s choir led by Michael’s wife – especially the song welcoming all the different nations to the meeting

The highlight of the night though was the singing of the children’s choir led by Michael’s wife – especially the song welcoming all the different nations to the meeting.

Friday morning was dedicated to the students on the Bio-Innovation and Entrepreneurship course, including our own Thulile Nhlapo and Benjamin Chimukangara. In their groups, they made their pitches for innovative health products in ‘Dragons Den’ style.

What a fantastic array of ideas we heard, ranging from phage therapy to shorten treatment for drug-resistant TB to med tech solutions to improve efficiency of health care workers in busy hospitals. It was clear that the students had benefited hugely from the training course and the real joy was in seeing the multinational groups of students truly working ‘across border’s’. The talk amongst delegates at lunch was how many of the ideas were actually well worth taking forward as solutions to real problems.

students on the Bio-Innovation and Entrepreneurship course, including our own Thulile Nhlapo and Benjamin Chimukangara. In their groups, they made their pitches for innovative health products in Dragons Den style

International students on the Bio-Innovation and Entrepreneurship course, including our own Thulile Nhlapo and Benjamin Chimukangara.

Friday afternoon involved a walk-through Sydney and through the beautiful campus of the University of Sydney to get to the Accelerating Australia showcase. It was clear from this that Australia is really taking translational science seriously. In a short space of time, their network of 20 partners has 64 new technologies in development and 26 new spin-off companies formed. It was particularly heartening to see universities traditionally seen as rivals coming together to work collaboratively on problems. This is definitely something we can learn from in South Africa!

On Saturday morning we got down to business. We heard about the plans for SPARK Global over the next year, especially plans to grow recognition of the program and its activities, to roll out an online professional education platform, and to increase the number of international collaborative projects (including ‘moonshot’ projects).

We connected with our friends at SPARK Zimbabwe (including regional director, Professor Collen Masimirembwa) to think through what the strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities are for our programs in Africa. What was clear from everyone was the passion and commitment to really support the programs in Africa and to support the training of African students.

In the evening, we took a stroll down to Darling Harbour for the celebratory dinner. Wonderful food, great company, and all in a perfect location. The meal was interrupted by a fantastic firework display over the harbour. Even more impressively, we were serenaded by Michael on his saxophone and his wife on the piano.

Darling Harbour for the celebratory dinner. Wonderful food, great company, and all in a perfect location. The meal was interrupted by a fantastic firework display over the harbour. Even more impressively, we were serenaded by Michael on his saxophone and his wife on the piano

Firework display over the harbour. Even more impressively, we were serenaded by Michael on his saxophone and his wife on the piano

On Sunday morning we needed some of the great coffee that Sydney offers to get us through the morning. The meeting wrapped up with Kevin Grimes (co-director of SPARK Global) giving us a run through of how to operationalise our programs and how to learn from the success of others. Whilst we can clearly learn from how they do things at Stanford University; we can probably learn more from some of the smaller SPARK programs around the world that have built success in settings without the ecosystem in California.

With the meeting finished, all that was left was a quick trip to Bondi Beach and a last opportunity to take in some of the sights of Sydney. We then returned home, energised by the experience and committed to doing what we can to take SPARK Durban forward and give ourselves and our projects every chance of success!

quick trip to Bondi Beach and a last opportunity to take in some of the sights of Sydney

Sight seeing in Sidney and jogging on the beach.

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KRISP Blogs: 5th Annual SPARK Global Meeting – personal view of Dr Richard Lessells and Gugulethu Mkhize