Ugandan innovators eye Africa engineering prize

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A more affordable, effective cervical cancer screening device, a digital platform to help farmers plan and distribute crops, a new way to secure banking through facial recognition, and a tool that monitors the condition of solar PV installations; these are the four innovations selected as finalists for the Royal Academy of Engineering’s 2020 Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation.

The finalists were selected from a shortlist of 15 African innovators effecting positive change in their communities, who have all received eight months of training and support through the Africa Prize. All four finalists have developed innovative ways to solve global problems, and are developing their ideas into strong businesses that can benefit entire communities.

“Despite a global pandemic placing immense pressure on entrepreneurs worldwide, we’ve been inspired by these four innovators’ ability to adapt, collaborate, and thrive,” said Rebecca Enonchong, Africa Prize judge and Cameroonian entrepreneur.

The Africa Prize supports the brightest minds across the continent, equipping them with skills to reshape and rethink their businesses. It is the continent’s biggest prize dedicated to engineering innovation, and has a proven track record for identifying successful engineering entrepreneurs.

“The Africa Prize is more than just an award,” added Enonchong. “It is designed to upskill and support entrepreneurs in the long term, building capacity across the entire innovation ecosystem in Africa. Supporting one innovator can transform a community, and we believe that, together, our network of innovators will help transform the continent.”

Victoria University

To date, the 86 Africa Prize alumni businesses have raised more than 14 million USD in grants and equity and created more than 1500 new jobs, with over 50% of these going to women and a significant proportion to disabled people and youth.

 The finalists

This year’s finalists hail from Uganda, Ghana and Nigeria:

  • In Uganda, Remot is helping Ugandan schools, businesses and solar companies manage off-grid power systems more effectively. Created by David Tusubira and his colleagues, the system provides more than just data about energy use. Remot examines the system itself for inefficiencies and potential problems, monitoring the condition and performance of solar PV installations.

    Manufactured on site at their offices in Kampala, the hardware device nicknamed ‘Davix’, after its co-founder, is running in nearly 500 schools, 11 solar maize mills, and solar water pumps on office blocks in the DRC, Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia and Uganda. Despite the pandemic hampering sales targets, Tusubira’s team has added nine employees since being shortlisted for the Africa Prize, and a local assembly plant is being built in Kampala, Uganda.
  • Also from UgandaDr William Wasswa’s PapsAI speeds up cervical cancer screening, diagnosis and patient record management, making it more affordable and reliable. While digital microscopes are most effective for screening for cervical cancer, they are expensive and are rarely used in low-income countries.
  • PapsAI’s digital microscope slide scanner quickly scans high-resolution cervical cell images from pap smears. Dr Wasswa also developed an analytical tool for diagnosis and classification of images, and the software assesses the likelihood of a patient contracting cervical cancer given their risk factors. A separate system manages and archives patient records using artificial intelligence. Dr Wasswa has used the COVID-19 lockdown to assess workflow at the hospital where PapsAI is being trialled, and has hired four full-time staff.
  • From NigeriaFarmz2U is a digital platform that reduces food waste by helping farmers plan their crops. Data expert Aisha Raheem developed Farmz2U after a health scare prompted her to eat more healthily. She is determined to reduce food waste and improve people’s nutritional intake.

  • During the COVID-19 pandemic, the disruption of traditional distribution channels has driven farmers and the rest of the agricultural supply chain online. Farmz2U has used support from the Africa Prize and the Academy’s Project CARE (COVID Africa Rapid Entrepreneurs), to ensure that it is well positioned to respond to the increased demand for its services.
  • BACE API is a Ghanaian platform that uses facial recognition and artificial intelligence to verify identities remotely. Tech entrepreneur Charlette N’Guessan and her cofounders developed the software after their research revealed that Ghana’s banks have a significant problem with identity fraud and cyber-crime, with approximately $400 million spent annually by Ghanaian financial institutions to identify their customers.

    While facial recognition software isn’t new, BACE API can use live images or short videos taken on phone cameras to detect whether the image is of a real person, or a photo of an existing image. During the global pandemic, digital platforms like BACE API have become essential in replacing in-person verification processes like fingerprinting. N’Guessan’s team has signed key partnerships with Ghanaian financial institutions since joining the Africa Prize shortlist, and is using the training to refine the company’s market strategy.

The 2020 finalists will pitch their innovations to a panel of judges and a live online audience on 3 September 2020. The winner will be announced at the virtual event, and will receive £25,000, with £10,000 awarded to each of the runners-up.

The seventh Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation is now open. Individuals and small teams living and working in sub-Saharan Africa who have a scalable engineering innovation that can solve a local challenge are invited to enter. Interested entrants can find more information here. The deadline for entries is 14 September 2020.

 The shortlist

The other 11 candidates shortlisted for the Africa Prize 2020 were:

  • Aquaprotein, Jack Oyugi from Kenya – an affordable protein supplement for animal feed, made from invasive water hyacinth
  • CATHEL, Catherine Tasankha Chaima from Malawi – an affordable antibacterial soap made from agricultural waste and other plant-based extracts
  • CIST Ethanol Fuel, Richard Arwa from Kenya – a clean cooking ethanol made from invasive water hyacinth
  • DryMac, Adrian Padt from South Africa – a containerised drying system that uses burning biomass instead of electricity to dry and preserve crops
  • Eco Water Purifier, Timothy Kayondo from Uganda – a digital system that turns bones, cassava peelings, coconut shells and other waste into an activated carbon water filter
  • EcoRide, Bernice Dapaah from Ghana – bamboo bicycles made by Ghanaian women and youth from sustainable materials and recycled parts
  • Garbage In Value Out (GIVO), Victor Boyle-Komolafe from Nigeria – automates and digitises the collection, processing and sale of recyclable materials
  • GrainMate, Isaac Sesi from Ghana – a simple handheld meter to accurately measure the moisture content of grains to prevent rotting, insect infestation and quality reduction
  • Lab and Library on Wheels, Josephine Godwyll from Ghana – a mobile, solar-hybrid cart with gadgets and e-learning resources to encourage reading and teach STEAM subjects in under-resourced schools
  • Safi Organics, Samuel Rigu from Kenya – a novel chemical process that turns crop waste into a range of affordable fertilisers
  • Tree_Sea.mals Mini-Grid, Tracy Kimathi from Kenya – a solar system that powers communal refrigeration storage spaces in rural Kenya.
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