Africa’s best innovators snap top engineering prize

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  • More than 102 social entrepreneurs discovered by Africa Prize across the continent are projected to impact over three million lives in the next five years
  • The awards have shown an increasing rise of women into innovation and engineering as half the 2022 list are women
  • The Africa Prize entrepreneurs have already created over 1500 jobs and raised over US$14 million in equity and grants

African Prize for Engineering Innovation

African Prize has shortlisted 16 innovators driving development through engineering creativity, who will compete for the 25,000 pounds (US$33,514) in the 2022 Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation. Three runners up will receive 10,000 pounds each (US$13,415). There will be an additional one-to-watch award that will be given to the most promising innovator as awarded by the audience and will receive 5,000 pounds (US$6,708).

The sixteen ingenious entrepreneurs have been chosen from Kenya, Cameroon, Ghana, Ethiopia, Nigeria, South Africa, The Democratic Republic of Congo, Togo and Uganda.

Women chunk an equal share in innovation and engineering

The awards have shown a rise of women into innovation and engineering as half the 2022 list are women. The United Kingdom’s Royal Academy runs the Africa Prize for Engineering and awards crucial commercialization support to African innovators who address challenges in the continent with scalable engineering solutions.

Read: Tanzania Solar Plant Wins Global Award

The award has a track record of spotting potential engineering entrepreneurs who have achieved substantial commercial success and social impact.

More than 102 social entrepreneurs discovered by Africa Prize across the continent are projected to impact over three million lives in the next five years. The entrepreneurs have already created over 1500 jobs and raised over US$14 million in equity and grants.

Benefits of the 2022 African Prize for Engineering Innovation

The UK-based firm provides a unique package of support to this year’s shortlisted innovators that will run from November 2021 to June 2022. The benefits include:

  • A comprehensive and tailored business training.
  • A custom-made mentoring programme to better tackle the challenges in the entrepreneurs’ innovations.
  • Communications and media training.

The programme will facilitate access to the Royal Academy’s global network of experienced, high-profile and business experts, in addition to access to the alumni network upon completion of the programme.

Moreover, 2022 is the programme’s second consecutive year to render a digital experience, with rigorous support provided through person-to-person and group discussions.

Four finalists will pitch their revised and improved innovations and business plans to the judges in the presence of a live audience.

“Once again, we have received an inspiring calibre of applications for the Africa Prize. This year’s shortlist demonstrates how technology can drive development from a grassroots level, and we look forward to supporting these innovators in expanding their impact across Africa,” said Dr John Lazar, one of the Africa Prize judges.

The complete list of sixteen selected technologies and the minds behind them are as follows:

Genesis Care by Catherine Wanjoya, Kenya

Sanitary pad dispenser. [Photo/Genesis care Kenya]Genesis care is a system to dispense and later dispose of feminine hygiene products to give young girls affordable products.
Founder and CEO of Genesis Care Catherine Wanjoya.

Caroline created the sanitary pads dispenser that allows users to buy a single pad at a time, at less than a tenth of the current retail cost. The dispensers transact in either coin or mobile money, with the latter dispensing the product once an MPESA transaction is complete.

Wanjoya and her team also created mobile incinerators to dispose of used products to promote and ensure proper disposal. The incinerators are small and portable and burn up to 800 degrees Celcius.

During the Coronavirus pandemic, the incinerators allowed the safe disposal of personal protective equipment.

Genesis Care already operates in 53 sites, including hospitals, schools, community centres and churches. These installed sites serve 15,000 regular customers, with 2.4 million sanitary pads sold since sales began in 2019.

Access to menstrual health is a global epidemic, causing young girls and women to skip school. In developing countries, the number of women who can afford sanitary pads drops to as low as 2 per cent as recorded in Tanzania by UNESCO.

In Kenya, up to 65 per cent of women cannot afford sanitary towels and products, which is the health and market gap that Caroline Wanjoya and her team are fighting.

VacciBox by Norah Magero, Kenya.

Nora Magero illustrates how Vaccibox works. [Photo/Twitter]
On the onset of Covid-19, Nora Magero devised a tool to safely and adequately store the medicine. VacciBox is a small, portable, solar-powered fridge that safely stores and transports temperature-sensitive medicine such as vaccines for use by travel clinics and field vaccinations.

The mechanical engineer and her team developed the technology to help get essential vaccines to remote communities where low-temperature infrastructure is lacking to prevent deaths arising from immunization deficiency.

Insufficient human resources and Infrastructure across Kenya continue to challenge vaccine distribution, with 3 in every ten children inadequately vaccinated.

VacciBox can also transport blood and tissue. The features of the product are:

  • VacciBox has a capacity of 40 litres.
  • It has an in-built thermostat and digital thermometer to maintain temperatures necessary for cold-chain medicine.
  • The product has a charge controller, a battery supply, and mains and solar power connectivity to ensure the power stability of the product.

Magero and her team are currently running three pilot projects in rural healthcare facilities to determine the sustainability and efficacy of VacciBox.

A-Lite Vein Locator, Dr Julius Mubiru, Uganda.

A-Lite Vein locator detects veins in darker skins. [Photo/A-Lite Uganda Limited]
A-Lite Vein Locator is a device that maps patients’ veins (especially those of a child) out as shadows on their skin, helping medical staff insert a drip or draw blood more efficiently.

Doctor Mubiru developed the device to solve the difficulty for medical staff to perform cannulations on younger children, especially those with darker skin.

The Ugandan doctor believes that having the device in clinics and hospitals will significantly reduce critical treatment time and quicker medication administration. The device will significantly help children with collapsed or barely visible veins.

Medical researchers estimate that between 50 and 80 per cent of children getting to hospitals and clinics require intravenous cannulation to administer medicine or draw blood.

Agelgil, Afomia Andualem, Ethiopia.

Agelgil is a sustainable range of packaging and tableware made from agricultural by-products such as barley and wheat straw. Afomia and her team developed the process and critical machinery required to convert crop waste into robust, reliable packaging.

Agelgil seeks to provide an eco-packaging system that will reduce plastics in Ethiopia and eventually Africa. The project will reduce pollution by a considerable margin.

Andualem and her team seek to reduce plastic use and deforestation and put into use agricultural waste with an estimated 85 per cent of Ethiopians involved in farming.

Agelgil also uses water hyacinth, which has hampered fishing and tourism, especially on Lake Tana.

Coldbox Store, Adekoyejo Kuye, Nigeria.

Coldbox Store wins Renewable and Transformational Challenge in Nigeria. [Photo/Elsevier]
Coldbox Store is a solar-powered, off-grid cold storage solution for farmers to store and sell fresh produce without relying on the electrical grid. The technology aims to serve farmers in rural areas with poor electricity infrastructure.

Read: Tecno Taps Into 4G Devices To Expand Market Share

The first installation is already in use in the local market of Enugu, Nigeria, and takes up to 5,000 kg of farm produce and runs a 7.7kW solar installation with a battery storage system.

Coolbox will tackle food security and food wastage, which accounts for roughly 45 per cent loss of all produce in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Adekoyejo believes that improving food security and access to energy will unlock untapped agricultural potential in Nigeria and Africa at large.

Aquaponics Hub, Lawrencia Kwansah, Ghana

Aquaponics Hub by Lawrencia Kwansah, Ghana. [Photo/Twitter]
A starter kit for new users to set up their aquaponics system at home, complete with fish, crops, intelligent sensors, an application to monitor the system, and an online marketplace to sell their produce.

Aquaponics is a closed farming system in which water containing nutrient-rich fish manure pumps from fish tanks to plants, which filters the water pumped back to the tanks. It was developed to give people living in urban areas to farm during the Coronavirus pandemic.

The hub is solar-powered to facilitate usage in off-grid areas and regions prone to common power outages.

Kwansah and her team’s research revealed that 90 per cent of vegetable farmers they spoke to were willing to shift to an aquaponics system.

Peec REM, Philip Kyeswa, Uganda

The Peec REM software. [Photo/Engineering]
Peec REM is a remote monitoring and metering system for off-grid solar installations. Philip’s innovation transmits real-time data and alerts utilities to blackouts or tampering.

With the increasing use of renewable grids across sub-Saharan Africa, the demand for monitoring, metering, and payment systems appropriate to local needs increases.

The system has been tested by 23 mini-grid operators in Uganda, with Kyeswa and his team preparing to scale up their presence in the market.

HYENA POWER POD, Dr Jack Fletcher, South Africa

A fuel-cell-based hydrogen generator converts Liquid Petroleum Gas (LPG) into usable electricity, all within one device. The POWER POD generates the necessary hydrogen from LPG and water and converts it into electricity.

The innovation comes when the African continent is at toddler stages in embracing hydrogen technology to adopt cleaner sources of energy to generate electricity.

HYENA POWER POD is silent, produces no vibration or unhealthy matter, and does not require regular maintenance since there are no moving parts.

The technology has many applications but is best suited to operate in mobile phone towers, where operators need to have their systems operational 24/7.

Fletcher has demonstrated the workability of the innovation, and he and his team have developed several small-scale prototypes. They are currently working on a pre-commercial 5kW POWER POD for telecom towers.

Bleaglee, Juveline Ngum, Cameroon

Juvenile Ngum awarded for inventing ecological ovens in Cameroon. [Photo/Afrik21]
Bleaglee is a sustainable, intelligent cooking system that includes a smokeless cookstove made from recycled metal scraps, bio-briquettes, and off-grid bio-digesters from plastics and agricultural waste. It also has a digital platform that allows users to track and offset their carbon footprint.

Juvenile has found a way to use metal that accounts for 40 per cent of Cameroon’s annual waste, reducing industrial energy use by 75 per cent and air pollution by 86 per cent.

The cooking stove is entirely mobile and has sensors and timers powered by AI, automatically switching the stove off when food is ready and monitoring air quality.

Bleaglee customers have ranged from households to schools, cafeterias and small restaurants. The stoves are 80 per cent cheaper than using firewood. They are also five times faster than the traditional ovens in Cameroon.

Crib A’Glow, Virtue Oboro, Nigeria

Crib A’Glow saves children with neonatal jaundice. [Photo/Textnext]
Crib A’Glow Foldable photo-therapy crib that monitors and treats jaundice in newborns. The crib can operate on either solar or grid power and monitors the baby’s condition by determining the bilirubin level in the baby’s body.

Currently, devices to treat jaundice are prohibitively expensive and highly susceptible to electricity outages or fluctuations. More than 6 million newborns globally do not receive appropriate treatment, with roughly 100,000 deaths recorded annually and many more suffering permanent injuries from the disease.

The crib is already in use in 70 hospitals in Nigeria, having treated more than 50,000 infants since starting operation.

HoBeei, Mariam Eluma, Nigeria

HoBeei is an online free-cycle platform where users can upload unwanted or unused items in exchange for virtual currency to purchase other goods on the platform.

HoBeei users bid for commodities with a virtual currency called the Buzzes, which is earned by uploading items of their own, inviting friends to the platform, purchasing bundles of Buzzes from cash, or sharing HoBeei on social media.

Eluma and her team sell and deliver the uploaded items to the highest bidder. She developed the platform after years of concern about consumerism in Nigeria and has seen Buzzes incentivizing users to acquire items they would not afford.

HoBeei has a wide variety of stock, ranging from clothes, toys, textbooks, furniture, cooking and recreational items.

More than 1,500 items worth roughly US$12,100 have been sold on the platform for Buzzes worth US$2,700. Their popularity increased during COVID-19 as people embraced online shopping and saved on costs following the loss of jobs and salary cuts.

Kukia, Divin Kouebatouka, DRC

Kukia follows a process that transforms the invasive water hyacinth plant into an absorbent fibre that can clean up oil spills and stop oil leaks on land or water.

Kukia, an invention of creating oil absorbent fibre by Divin Kouebatouka shortlisted for the 2022 Arica Prize awards. [Photo/The Guardian]
The fibre can hold up to 17 times its weight in hydrocarbons, the primary compound of crude oil. Engineer Divin developed Kukia to combat both a botanic and environmental problem in one breath.

Kukia helps control the invasive water hyacinth and creates employment for people in the surrounding communities. The fibre processing company is sold directly to petrochemical and pollution control companies and the public through fuel stations.

SolarPocha, Oluwatobi Oyinlola, Nigerian

SolarPocha allows people to work outdoors conveniently. [Photo/Kenyan Wallstreet]
SolarPocha is an outdoor workstation, a solar-powered space where students can comfortably connect to WiFi and off-grid electricity. Onyiola installed the first unit in a university he was studying in Nigeria.

He says the outdoor centre can be stationed anywhere, offering an opportunity for people to work in various settings without the limit of electricity connection. SolarPocha is ideal for universities, schools, parks and restaurants.

The facility has enough room for eight users and their electronic gadgets. A customer books space through an online platform which Onyiola developed, making it easier to use.

There is minimal maintenance of the system, and the internet is available in bulk with funds coming from the bookings.

Solimi prepaid card, Gaël Matina Egbidi, Togo

A prepaid, Visa-backed card that does not require users to bank with one specific bank, enabling the unbanked to make purchases online and cash out mobile money at minimal financial costs. Matina created the product to promote financial inclusivity.

The unbanked population in Africa lies at approximately 66 per cent. In addition, West Africa has the highest banking fees globally, with less than 10 per cent of the Togo people having a bank card.

Solimi customers will buy the card even without a bank account, top it up with money and make online purchases using the card. Visa supports the Solimi card, and hence customers will be able to access the international financial system. The users can also convert mobile money into cash withdrawn from a Visa-backed ATM.

The users can also book cards through the Solimi mobile app. Moreover, customers can have salaries and wages paid on the cards. The project will launch in the first quarter of 2022.

TelMi, Fabrice Teuche, Cameroon

Telmi is a set of devices that help nurses monitor patients, respond to alarms, and collect data to improve workflow and response times. It contains two devices, one for the patient and the nurse.

The patient’s device allows them to alert medical staff in case of any problems by pushing a button while also proactively monitoring their condition. The nurse’s corresponding device emits visual, vibration, or audible alarms in an emergency.

The Telmi device uses rechargeable batteries that can last for more than a month, making it possible for the patients to reach their nurses even in areas with an inconsistent electricity supply.

The Wifi-enabled version of the device collects data about alarm response time and frequency, which a cloud-based AI system analyses to improve efficiency and predict patterns.

Healthcare in Cameroon ranks among the ten poorest globally, with the nurse-patient ratio as low as 8 to 10,000. The doctor-patient ratio is lower, standing at 1.1 to 10,000.

The goal of the device is to help nurses monitor more patients with minimal effort, giving patients a better response time in emergencies.

TelMi is currently operating in two healthcare facilities in Cameroon.

TERAWORK, Femi Taiwo, Nigeria

TERAWORK Team. [Photo/Technext]
An online platform that connects users to freelancers, enabling small business owners to find and safely outsource critical skills such as coding and accounting.

TERAWORK allows users to commission, brief, manage and pay freelancers working in various fields, from software development to accounting, marketing, writing, design, e.t.c.

The platform allows businesses to hire part-time skills, giving them financial flexibility. It also creates a pool of available talent easing the accessibility of skills.

For freelancers, the platform provides a more secure method for selling services. The platform vets all users before uploading, and payment from commissioning customer to freelancer gets released once all parties are satisfied with the work done.

African innovations have increased with increased internet access, and we await to see which among the sixteen innovations will scoop the 25,000 pounds from Africa Prize.

Read: Japanese investments in Rwanda total $22 million

I am a journalist who is an enthusiastic tech, business and investment news writer from across Africa. There is always something good happening in Africa but most gets lost in the stereotypes. I tell the stories that matter to the Africans for Africa. Have a tip? You can contact me at j.kangethe@theexchange.africa

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