Ten fantastic African innovators shortlisted for IPA 2017 grand prize

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The African Innovation Foundation (AIF) has announced its innovator shortlist for its grand prize of USD $100,000, due to be awarded in Ghana mid-July. Nnamdi Oranye takes a look at the innovators on the list.

Every year the African Innovation Foundation (AIF) runs its Innovation Prize for Africa (IPA), which recognises individuals for their contribution to innovation in Africa. Its goal is to strengthen African innovation ecosystems, something I write a lot about, through supporting a culture of innovation and competitiveness. It encourages Africans to look at African solutions to African problems, which is what true innovation looks like.

This year, it has selected ten innovators from nine African countries to be shortlisted from the prize – Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Kenya, Liberia, Morocco, Nigeria, South Africa, Uganda and Zimbabwe.

“This year’s innovators have demonstrated incredible proficiency through innovative solutions addressing challenges in agriculture value chain, health care, energy, communications, service industries as well as surveillance using drone technology,” it says. The judges will include corporates, academia, technology and scientific experts representing top African innovation influencers. The prize will be awarded in Accra, Ghana on 18th July 2017.

In my view, we don’t speak enough about our innovators and our innovations, and seem to give overseas innovations more credit than our own. We love to speak about Google and Uber and Facebook, and so we should, but we don’t offset this with what’s going on in our own back yard. It’s important for us to do this, otherwise our innovation history is going to be written by others. It’s also important for us to do this properly, looking to engage and inspire young people to innovate.

Therefore, in the spirit of giving our innovators the spotlight, I want to highlight the ten innovators shortlisted for the IPA prize. Here they are:

Innovations in communications and smart solutions

  1. Peris Bosire, Kenya: FarmDrive

FarmDrive is a financial technology company that has developed a mobile phone based application that collects data and provides an alternative risk assessment model for small holder farmers. While the continent remains largely dependent on agriculture, one of the biggest challenges facing smallholder farmers is access to credit or finance. FarmDrive assesses credit worthiness of farmers and has seen a higher acceptance rate of loan applications by its farmers while maintaining a very low default rate.

  1. Nokwethu Khojane, South Africa: Lakheni, Turning Social Capital into Buying Power

Poor people often end up paying for goods and services at a unit price higher than that paid by those with more disposable income because these goods and services are packaged into smaller units to make them affordable. This means they become less economically efficient and end up costing higher than if one was to buy in bulk or in larger units. This is often known as the ‘poverty premium’. Lakheni, however, solves this problem by aggregating poor households into buying-groups in order to negotiate favourable discounts for goods and services.

  1. Omolabake Adenle, Nigeria: Voice Recognition and Speech Synthesis Software for African Languages

Voice recognition software has come a long way, but it’s still way behind in understanding and digitising African languages. However, this software does just that – allowing Africans of all literacy levels to interact with hardware devices such as mobile phones and digital services such as call-center applications by speaking their local language. The software can be integrated into a wide range of devices and third-party software applications.

  1. Nzola Swasisa, Democratic Republic of Congo: Lokole

Lokole is a device that enables access to email anywhere with cellular coverage at a price that is one hundred to one thousand times cheaper than accessing email via regular cellular bandwidth costs. Lokole achieves this firstly by creating a shareable local area network where up to a hundred users within a 25 meters’ radius can access the network and share the costs. Secondly, it contains advanced algorithms that compress email and also schedules uploads and downloads of data to when data bundles costs are at their cheapest. This means that costs per user could be as little as $0.01/person/day.

Leveraging artificial intelligence and mechanical solutions

  1. Badr Idriss, Morocco: Atlan Space

African governments face numerous challenges in monitoring activities and operation over wide areas. This includes border patrols, deforestation, animal poaching and maritime activity. Atlan Space develops software technology that manages the operations of drones that helps to solve this problem at a very cost effective price without a need for highly skilled human intervention.

  1. Aly El-Shafei, Egypt: Smart Electro-Mechanical Actuator Journal Integrated Bearing “SEMAJIB”

SEMAJIB is a smart bearing that can change its characteristics as it operates.  It consists of a magnetic bearing imbedded in an oil-filled journal bearing, thus forming the smart controllable bearing. The flooding of the bearing with oil is a game changer as the purpose of bearings has traditionally been to expel oil.  There is a significant improvement in turbine performance using the SEMAJIB particularly in single line combined cycle plants, as well as conventional generator technology.  The device is designed to be used to support energy generating turbines and can be used to improve efficiency and reduce costs of generating energy in Africa.

Discoveries in healthcare solutions

  1. Dougbeh-Chris Nyan, Liberia: New Technology for Rapid Detection of Many Infections Using Only One Test

These sorts of innovations excite me. Doughbeh-Chris Nyan has created a device which can detect and distinguish multiple infections which bear the same symptoms, for example yellow fever, malaria, or Ebola. Most testing methods take 3 – 7 days, but this device gives test results in 10 – 40 minutes. It can be used in any setting and therefore works well for rural areas. This provides a significant step in the detection and management of infectious diseases on the continent.

  1. Olanisun Olufemi Adewole, Nigeria: Sweat TB Test, A non-invasive rapid skin test to detect Tuberculosis

TB is the second leading cause of death in Africa. Available methods to test the disease can’t be used in rural areas and are quite hi-tech, requiring certain skills. Patients have to visit the clinic several times before a diagnosis is made. However, the Sweat TB Test leverages is able to provide a diagnosis within ten minutes. It has the potential to contribute towards effectively controlling TB, reduce TB related deaths, and also holds promise to prevent drug resistance to TB in Africa.

  1. Gift Gana, Zimbabwe: Dr. CADx

Dr CADx is a software solution that helps doctors and health care workers diagnose medical images more accurately. Due to the scarcity of radiologists on the continent, most medical images are read by general doctors or other health care workers who lack expertise and end up misdiagnosing more than 30 percent of the cases that they review. As a result, millions of patients fail to get the right treatment or the treatment is delayed leading to more complications and even death. Dr CADx uses deep learning to interpret medical images and achieve an accuracy of 82 percent over the 70 percent average for radiologists. Dr CADx is designed to work in low resource settings with poor internet connectivity opening it up for use in many rural settings in Africa.

  1. Philippa Ngaju Makobore, Uganda: Electronically Controlled Gravity Feed Infusion Set (ECGF)

The Electronically Controlled Gravity Feed Infusion Set (ECGF) is medical device designed to accurately administer intravenous (IV) fluids and drugs by controlling the rate of fluid flow. Over 10 percent of children admitted to East African hospitals need immediate infusion therapy.  If this is not done right, it can have severe adverse effects or result in death. The ECGF, however, solves this problem as it is very easy to operate and has key safety features. It works off a battery than can be charged via solar power or other means.

The grand prize winner of the IPA will get to take home US$100 000. In addition to cash prizes for the runner-up and third place, there will also be investment opportunities, training, and access to AIF’s innovation network, media coverage and PR support.