This year’s Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation shortlists includes the creators of a low-cost ventilator powered by water instead of electricity, a digital financial services solution that audits users based on their online social profiles, and sustainable packaging developed from banana stems to help battle plastic pollution and deforestation.
The Africa Prize, run every year by the UK’s Royal Academy of Engineering, awards crucial commercialisation support to ambitious African innovators who are transforming their communities through scalable engineering solutions. 2021 shortlist represents nine countries including, for the first time, Côte d’Ivoire, Senegal, Ethiopia and the Gambia. Six of the 16-strong shortlist are female innovators.
The programme has a track record of identifying engineering entrepreneurs with significant potential, many of whom have gone on to achieve greater commercial success and social impact.
A unique package of support – running from December 2020 to July 2021 – is being provided to the shortlisted innovators to help them accelerate their businesses. The benefits of selection include comprehensive and tailored business training, bespoke mentoring, media and communications training, funding and access to the Academy’s network of high-profile, experienced engineers and business experts based in the UK and across Africa, as well as access to the alumni network after the programme concludes.
This year marks the first fully digital programme, providing intensive expert guidance and community support through a mixture of an online group and one-on-one sessions.
Following this period of support, four finalists will be selected and invited to pitch their improved innovation and business plan to the judges and a live audience. A winner will be selected to receive £25,000, and three runners up will receive £10,000 each.
Emma Wade Smith OBE, Her Majesty’s Trade Commissioner for Africa at the UK Department for International Trade said: “It makes me very proud to be part of this initiative that demonstrates so clearly and practically the power of partnerships between Africa and the UK.
The range of innovations and innovators in this year’s shortlist offer an insight into Africa’s extraordinary diversity and talent and illustrate the importance we all place on nurturing and supporting Africa’s self-starters to create and scale sustainable and inclusive products and services that will help us rebuild our economies to be greener, cleaner and more resilient.
“The Africa Prize helps to accelerate entrepreneurial capacity and ecosystems. I am excited to follow the progress of this year’s cohort, and am certain we will see many of these inventions go on to create and sustain jobs and benefit our societies, as so many of the previous participants in the Africa Prize have done.”
Alumni of the Prize are projected to impact over three million lives in the next five years and have already created over 1500 jobs and raised more than $14 million in grants and equity.
Africa Prize alumni have also played an important role in supporting the continent’s COVID-19 pandemic response, with the programme’s training and additional Academy funding helping them pivot their businesses and address community needs.
Together, they reached over 220,000 people with innovations including affordable hand sanitiser, remote education, 3D-printed PPE, access to finance for smallholder farmers and a track and trace platform allowing worshippers to attend religious services.
2021 shortlist includes innovations that provide exciting solutions for key challenges addressing most of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, including reducing waste, improving healthcare efficiency, and a range of digital solutions to improve business productivity.
The companies range from transforming banana and plantain stems to biodegradable paper packaging products, a low-cost biowaste processing machine for farmers to manage biowaste, a high-efficiency machine used to process garri, and bioplastic made from biomass which dissolves in water.
The entrepreneurs have also developed a cost-effective 3D printed prosthetic hand for people with upper limb amputations, 3D printed orthopaedic equipment for patients and healthcare workers, a low-cost non-electric and non-invasive ventilator for patients with respiratory difficulties, a device that uses artificial intelligence to simplify intravenous therapy, and a digital healthcare platform which manages the medical data of patients to ensure continuity of care.
Other innovations selected aim to improve business productivity and upskill students and job seekers, such as a cloud-based application to help increase the productivity of waste management and other service-based businesses, a tech recruitment platform for companies to hire software engineers, a smartphone application that uses AI to teach coding, and a digital workspace which connects brands in the media industry with local content creators.
There is also a digital financial services solution that uses a social reputation score to provide formal financial services to those without access to a smartphone or bank account.
The Academy also runs other complementary innovation programmes in Africa. The Africa Innovation Fellowship, in partnership with WomEng, aims to increase female participation in engineering innovation and entrepreneurship across the continent, and the Leaders in Innovation Fellowships (LIF) programme, which supports innovators in 16 countries including Egypt, Kenya and South Africa.
The complete list of selected technologies and candidates includes:
- Aevhas, Jacob Azundah from Nigeria – A high-efficiency machine used to process cassava roots into the West African diet staple, garri.
- Biopackaging, Armelle Sidje from Cameroon – A sustainable manufacturing process which transforms banana and plantain stems to biodegradable paper packaging products.
- BlueAvo, Indira Tsengiwe from South Africa – A digital platform which connects creative brands and people in the media industry with local content creators and provides a digital workspace for collaboration and project development.
- CodeLn, Elohor Thomas from Nigeria – An automated tech recruitment platform that supports software engineering recruitment by connecting companies with talented people in the field and helps test their coding abilities.
- Dissolv Bioplastic, Tshepo Mangoele from South Africa – A bioplastic made from plant waste material which is compostable and dissolves in water at pre-determined rates.
- I3S, Marie Ndieguene from Senegal – A sustainably-made and affordable storage space solution made from diverted landfill waste designed to solve the problem of post-harvest loss in agriculture.
- Jumeni Field Service Software, Eyram Amedzor from Ghana – Software which assists service-based businesses by providing a three-part cloud-based application to help increase the productivity of their field teams.
- KubeKo, Noël N’guessan from Côte d’Ivoire – A low-cost biowaste processing machine designed for smallholder farmers to efficiently manage and monetise biowaste.
- Make3D Medical, Juka Fatou Darboe from The Gambia – Cost-effective locally 3D-printed customised orthopaedic, medical and assistive equipment for patients and healthcare workers.
- Mkono-1, Dr Atish Shah from Tanzania – A locally 3D-printed prosthetic hand which provides an affordable solution for people living with upper limb amputations.
- Orbit Health, Pazion Cherinet from Ethiopia – A digital health platform which manages and stores patient data and dispenses medication, allowing for seamless continuity of care.
- Reeddi, Olugbenga Olufemi Olubanjo from Nigeria – An energy system used to provide clean, reliable and affordable electricity to households and businesses operating in energy-poor communities.
- RealDrip, Taofeek Olalekan from Nigeria – An intravenous therapy solution combining the Internet of Things and AI to monitor dosages, flow rates and intake time.
- ShiVent, Yusuf Bilesanmi from Nigeria – A low-cost, non-electric and non-invasive ventilator for patients with respiratory difficulties.
- Social Lender, Faith Adesemowo from Nigeria – A digital financial services solution that uses a social reputation score to provide access to formal financial services for those without access to a smartphone or bank account.
- ai, George Boateng from Ghana – A smartphone application which uses artificial intelligence to teach coding remotely.