The Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) has been instrumental in promoting research capacity and knowledge production in the Earth observation (EO) sector through its participation in initiatives such as the Group on Earth Observation (GEO), which led to the establishment of the South African Group on Earth Observation (SAGEO). Hence the New Earth Observation Frontiers (NEOFrontiers) programme was developed by the South African Space Agency (SANSA) to support the research and innovation in the EO sector.


Despite the support for that has been provided to innovators in the space industry, the uptake of EO solutions by the government and private sector in South Africa is limited to a few departments and companies with remote sensing or related data science human challenges. The low number of EO downstream companies may be attributed to the slow uptake of EO solutions by government and private sector. Increasing the uptake of EO technologies in South Africa requires South African companies in this sector is required to improve their innovation and technology development capabilities and competitiveness hence the establishment of the NEOFrontiers’ Enterprise Innovation Support Fund (NEOFrontiersEISF).  


The NEOFrontiersEISF is intended to stimulate the development of innovative solutions in the EO sector, foster the growth and development of competitive EO companies in the country and stimulate co-opetition (coordination, collaboration, cooperation, and competitiveness) between South African EO companies.


The NEOFrontiersEISF will be managed through a strategic partnership between SANSA and the NRF. SANSA was established through Act 36 of 2008 to coordinate and integrates space science and technology programmes, conducts long-term research and oversee the implementation of space-related innovations in South Africa. SANSA also ensures the supply of cost-effective space-based EO data and products to support South Africa’s policy, decision-making, economic growth and sustainable development. The NEOFrontiers, which is an initiative of the SANSA, is an instrument that enables the development of novel products and services and facilitates capacity building through research and innovation. The SANSA national strategies and policy briefs can be found through the link


The National Research Foundation was established under the National Research Foundation Act [Act No.23 of 1998] to support, promote and advancing research and human capacity development, through funding and the provision of the necessary research infrastructure, in order to facilitate the creation of knowledge, innovation and development in all fields of science and technology, including humanities, social sciences and indigenous knowledge.


The main objective  of the NEOFrontiersEISF is to support entrepreneurs, startups and SMMEs to transform their space-based ideas to products and/or services in order to increase the competitiveness of the South African EO sector and benefit the South African society at large.


3.1 Funding: The grant that will be awarded to the funded enterprises will be through the incubation partner. In cases where academic institutions are involved the portion of the funds will be transferred directly by the NRF. Each project will be funded up to a R1 million for the duration of the project and the awarded funding will be restricted to research and innovation related activities.


3.1.1 Fundable activities

  • Development of a technology, prototype or product
  • Product development
  • Skills development
  • Business support and advisory
  • Equipment that is related to the completion of the project and will not be more than 30% of the approved amount, this will only be approved if any other service provider does not have the required equipment
  • Piloting and conducting of field studies


3.1.2 Non fundable activities

  • Salary contributions to team members of the funded enterprise
  • Working capital and company related costs
  • Basic research
  • Any activities that are not related to the approved project


The initial payment will be paid upon acceptance and signing of the conditions of award or agreement by the applicant. Subsequent payments will be made upon achievement of each milestone.


The applicants must ensure that the budgeted items are aligned to the innovation and technology development activities. Recommendation to change or adjust the budget may be made by the proposal assessment committee where necessary.


3.2. Type of support: the support that will be provided to startups and SMMEs will depend on their specific needs, this may include technology development support, business development, skills development, and provision of equipment where necessary.


  • Technology development expertise: expertise to undertake technology and product development may be sourced from consultants in the academic and/or private sector locally and internationally.


  • Skills development: As part of youth empowerment in scarce skills, participation and involvement of youth including postgraduate students at South African public universities is encouraged. This may be by spending time at funded SMMEs learning technical skills related to the EO sector. In addition to technical skills development, the startups and SMMEs will be supported with business skills. This will be done in partnership with the NEOFrontiersEISF implementing partner Tuksnovation where training and support on business skills such as financial management and marketing may be provided through incubation to the enterprises that require those services.

  • Equipment: The grant may be allocated to funding research equipment to improve the technical capabilities and innovation capacity. 


3.3. Implementation: The projects will be implemented at the premises of the participating companies. The approved projects will be supported for a period of 6 to 12 months. Thereafter the developed technologies or products would be supported through other innovation funding partners such as Technology Innovation Agency (TIA) and the Innovation Hub.


3.4. Outputs: The expected outputs from the supported projects will include technologies, prototypes, products and trained personnel.


3.5 Reporting: A milestone report that will be submitted by the funded enterprises will be required after achievement of each milestone, and it will be the requirement for the payment for subsequent milestones. A reporting template will be provided to the funded enterprises.


3.6 Networking workshops: Funded enterprises will be required to attend networking sessions to network with industry partners and other EO stakeholders. These workshops may be physical, virtual or both.


The following conditions must be met for the applying enterprises to be considered for funding.

  • Must be a South African citizen with a Small Micro and Medium Enterprise registered with the Companies and Intellectual Property Commission (CIPC)
  • Must have a valid Tax clearance certificate
  • Must have a valid BBBEE certificate
  • Must have an innovative idea that can be used to address challenges in the above mentioned focus areas


Enterprises that intend to partner with experts at academic institutions will be assisted by the NRF to find relevant partners.

5. Timeline

Activity Deadline (2024)
Briefing session 29 February
Closing date for submission of proposals 15 March
Assessment of proposals by Expert committee 19 March
Approvals by Advisory Committee 26 March
Communication of outcomes 29 March