Johannesburg - Innovators and social entrepreneurs will play an important part in solving South Africa's problems, businessman Cyril Ramaphosa said on Thursday.
"We've seen how innovation is creating products… In various communities it can give dignity back to people, create jobs," Ramaphosa said.
He said social entrepreneurs, people who think of innovations to help their communities, represented untapped potential for tackling South Africa's problems.
"They start off as a social service but they move on now to moving effective businesses. We need to recognise and support."
Ramaphosa was speaking at the 2nd Annual SAB Foundation Innovation Awards. The awards seek to recognise and provide support to South African entrepreneurs.
"We felt there was a need for us in our country to recognise the incredible spirit of innovation that this country has…To recognise it as local level, at the community level where it matters the most," Ramaphosa said.
"There are millions of innovators out there."
Ramaphosa said the innovation could solve South Africa's problems of poverty and unemployment by creating new services that could raise the standard of living of communities and employ people to provide those services.
Some of the finalists included a bicycle grocery delivery service, tunnel farming, and a simple township alarm system that uses a loud siren to summon help from the community when a person is attacked in their home.
The finalists were dominated by a younger entrepreneurs and innovators.
Ramaphosa likened the up-and-coming young entrepreneurs to priceless paintings which should be displayed proudly by South Africa.
"... finding those very precious Rembrandt paintings, bringing them out of the attic and showcasing them to ourselves and the world,” Ramaphosa said.
Several finalists won R100 000 prizes for their ideas and innovations with the second and third place winners earning R500 000 and R400 000 respectively.
The winner of the first-place, R1m prize, was Ashley Uys who developed a malaria test kit with his partner Lyndon Munger that can provide results within 30 minutes.
The kit will make testing in isolated areas, away from laboratories, much easier and save lives through faster treatment.
SAB refers to the prizes as "investments" as they will be used to help get the proposals of the entrepreneurs off the ground and turn them into working enterprises.
Uys said his R1m prize would help his cash-intensive business expand and become more viable.
"In my field of research, before you can develop a product, you have to burn cash and there's no guarantee that it will work,” Uys said.
Ramaphosa mentioned in his opening remarks that education was important towards helping innovation and making South Africa successful.
The second and third prize winners both dealt with education.
Third prize-winner iDes, interactive Driver Education System, is a simulated driving program that is affordable and ensures that people are able to pass their driving test during their first try.
Second-prize winner, Funda, is a digital education platform that distributes resources for matric to teachers and students to mobile phones and computers.