#IPA2017: Why Judges May Have a Hard time picking the best African Innovators

In a few days, precisely on July 18, 2017, the Innovation Prize for Africa (IPA) will be awarded in Accra, Ghana. Innovators from nine African countries including Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Kenya, Liberia, Morocco, Nigeria, South Africa, Uganda and Zimbabwe have been shortlisted for the prestigious Prize. Organizers of the IPA Awards, Zurich Switzerland-based African Innovation Foundation (AIF) has a mandate to increase the prosperity of Africans by catalyzing the innovation spirit in Africa.

In 2012, the African Innovation Foundation (AIF) initiated the Innovation Prize for Africa to support African innovators to promote home-grown solutions for Africa’s prosperity. Now in its 6th Edition, the Innovation Prize for Africa (IPA) is a leading platform on the African innovation landscape, with a network of 6000+ African innovators spanning 50 countries and 45 of the continent’s top innovators and 35+ innovation enablers.

The theme for this year’s IPA Awards is African Innovation: Investing in Prosperity. Innovations expected  to be showcased include solutions that address challenges in the agriculture value chain, healthcare, energy, communications and service industries, as well as surveillance using drone technology. A total of $185,000 is up for grabs by winners who develop African solutions for challenges in Africa.

A unique development this year is the shortlisting, for the first time, of innovators from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia and Zimbabwe. Moreover, given the growing contributions of African women to innovation and development across the continent, it is thrilling to see more women with game-changing innovations among the 10 nominees.  Also, it is rather exciting that all the innovations cited are disruptive and ingenious in one way or another and one begins to wonder how tough it could be for the judges to pick winners.


Below (and in no particular order) are the profiles and inspiring stories of the 10 finalists expected to jostle for IPA 2017:

Peris Bosire (Kenya) -FarmDrive

Peris Bosire

Peris, a social entrepreneur, is co-founder of FarmDrive, the financial technology company which developed a mobile phone-based application that collects data and provides an alternative risk assessment model for smallholder farmers. While the continent remains largely dependent on agriculture, one of the biggest challenges facing smallholder farmers is access to credit or finance. Most financial institutions are reluctant to grant credit to farmers, because their risk assessment models flag small farmers as being very risky.

FarmDrive has developed a new methodology for assessing the credit worthiness of farmers, which has led to a higher acceptance rate of loan applications by farmers, while maintaining a very low default rate. This could have the effect of significantly boosting agricultural production on the continent, while helping financial institutions cost effectively increase their agricultural loan portfolios.

Peris has a First Class Honours Bachelor of Science degree in Computer Science from the University of Nairobi. She is also a winner of the prestigious 2016 Queen’s Young Leaders Award from Her Majesty the Queen and the 2016 Commonwealth Youth Awards for Excellence in Development Work.


Gift Gana (Zimbabwe) -Dr CADx

Gift Gana

Gift Gana (34) is a tech entrepreneur and founder of award winning tech company, Avelgood Apps. He holds a BSc (Hons) Applied Physics degree from the National University of Science and Technology in Zimbabwe and has also taken postgraduate courses in Business Management at the same institution.

Dr CADx is a computer aided diagnostic system that helps doctors and healthcare 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 healthcare workers who may lack expertise and end up mis-diagnosing more than 30% of the cases that they review. As a result, millions of patients fail to get the right treatment, or treatment may be delayed, leading to more complications like increased cost and complexity of treatment, spread of communicable diseases and even death.

Dr CADx uses deep learning, a technology that simulates how the human brain works, to recognize patterns that are characteristic of the disease in the images. Once an image is transferred to a computer with the software installed, diagnosis is as easy as uploading a photo to Facebook and getting a diagnosis in a few seconds. The current prototype achieves an accuracy of 82%, which is an improvement on the 70% average for radiologists. Additionally, Dr CADx is designed to work in low resource settings with poor internet connectivity, thereby making it suitable for use in many rural settings in Africa.


Dougbeh-Chris Nyan (Liberia)   -a New Technology for Rapid Detection of Many Infections in Only One Test

Dougbeh-Chris Nyan

Dr. Dougbeh Christopher Nyan (53) is a medical doctor, a biomedical research scientist, an inventor and a social activist. He studied Zoology and Chemistry at the College of Science and Technology of the University of Liberia. He also earned a degree in Human Medicine (infectious diseases) from the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin Medizinische Fakultät – Charité in Germany and trained as a biomedical scientist at the National Institute of Health (NIH) in the USA.

Dougbeh has developed a rapid test that can detect and simultaneously differentiate at least three to seven infections at the same time, within 10 to 40 minutes. In most African countries, there is a lack of sophisticated diagnostic devices and a dearth of expertise in high-tech diagnostics. These hinder the clinical decision-making ability of healthcare providers. His diagnostic test provides a solution to this clinical problem. Dougbeh’s innovation is easy to use in any setting. Additionally, the device is able to detect and distinguish multiple infections which bear the same symptoms, for instance, when a patient has yellow fever, malaria, and Ebola. Whereas most testing methods take 3 – 7 days, Dougbeh’s device gives test results in 10 – 40 minutes.

Dougbeh is currently working on the second prototype of his innovation, after obtaining positive results from his first prototype. The results have been validated with human clinical samples, peer-reviewed and published in several respected scientific journals such as the Nature-Scientific Reports. His innovation has the potential of being a game changer on the continent in the detection and management of infectious diseases for quality patient-care.


 Aly El-Shafei  (Egypt)   –Smart Electro-Mechanical Actuator Journal Integrated Bearing (SEMAJIB)

Aly El-Shafei

The patented innovation, SEMAJIB, presented by Dr. El-Shafei, is a smart and versatile  bearing that 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. There is a significant improvement in turbine performance using the SEMAJIB, particularly in single line combined cycle plants as well as conventional generator technology. This technology has been patented in the US since 2010 and a newer version is patent-pending also in the US.

First, The device is designed to be used to support energy generating turbines and can be used to improve efficiency and reduce the costs of generating energy in Africa. Second, this is an innovation that the West is striving to develop, but does not have at the moment as is evident in Siemens’ interest in the device. This is a world-class innovation originating from Africa, thus reversing Africa’s image as a technology consumer, to become a technology producer. Third, producing these bearings in Africa will generate jobs and revenues to Africa, as it clearly can be exported to the West.

Prof. Aly El-Shafei received his Bachelors and Masters degrees from Cairo University, Egypt and his Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.), all in Mechanical Engineering. Dr. El-Shafei is a recipient of several grants and awards.


Olanisun Olufemi Adewole (Nigeria)   -Sweat TB Test

Olanisun Olufemi Adewole

Olanisun is a Physician. He studied Medicine at the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), University of Ibadan (UI) and the National Postgraduate Medical College, Ijanikin, Lagos, all in Nigeria. He is a recipient of several awards.

His innovation, Sweat TB Test, is a user-friendly rapid diagnostic test to detect tuberculosis (TB). TB is second only to HIV/AIDS as a leading cause of death in Africa. Available methods are high tech, cannot be deployed in rural centers and dependent only sputum, which is considered messy by patients. Also,  it is time consuming, with patients making repeated clinic visits before a diagnosis is finally made. Delay in diagnosis and missed diagnoses of 3 million TB cases occur every year, leading to the continuous spread of the disease.

Sweat TB Test leverages on TB specific marker in the sweat of patients, to produce a point- of- care test to detect TB within ten minutes and without any needle prick. In simple steps, reports are read and patients commence medication as needed at the same clinic visit. It has the potential to contribute towards effectively controlling TB, reduce TB-related deaths and prevent drug resistance TB in Africa.


Omolabake Adenle (Nigeria)   -Voice Recognition and Speech Synthesis Software for African Languages

Omolabake Adenle

Omolabake Adenle (35), is founder of AJA.LA Studios, a startup building a platform of African language voice recognition and speech synthesis software. She holds a PhD in Bayesian Signal Processing from Cambridge University where she was a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow and Tau Beta Pi Honors Fellow.Abake’s innovation is software that can understand and digitize spoken African languages and synthesize speech from African languages presented as digitized text. Digitizing African languages in this way allows Africans to interact with hardware devices such as mobile phones and digital services such as call-centre applications by speaking their local language. The software can be integrated into a wide range of devices and third-party software applications. While voice recognition and speech synthesis software have been developed for various Western and Asian languages, there has been very limited commercial application or academic research for African languages. The difficulty lies in modeling the tonality in most African languages, limited data resources for language modeling, and the challenge of modeling the plurality of African languages.

Using deep learning, Abake has developed complex algorithms and acoustic models for voice recognition and speech synthesis for two African languages. She is currently working on 14 native and colonial African languages, with Swahili and Yoruba available for testing. She is also currently working with various African retail banks and insurance companies on automating call-centre query resolution in local languages, to help address issues of financial inclusion. This innovation can open access to the benefits of technology for illiterate Africans who can access phones. It is also relevant to urban Africans who wish to interact with digital services in native or colonial African languages.


Philippa Ngaju Makobore (Uganda)   –Electronically Controlled Gravity Feed Infusion Set (ECGF)

Philippa Ngaju Makobore

Philippa’s innovation, the Electronically Controlled Gravity Feed Infusion Set (ECGF), is designed to accurately administer intravenous (IV) fluids and drugs by controlling the rate of fluid flow based on feedback from a drop sensor. It is easy to operate and has key safety features which include alarms for rate of infusion (rapid or slow), total volume (over or under) and faulty sensors. A battery which utilizes a hybrid (AC mains and solar) charging bed powers the device.

IV infusions are critical for both adults and children in various situations. Over 10% of children admitted to East African hospitals need immediate infusion therapy. Findings from the FEAST trial indicates that over-infusion in children increased the absolute risk of death by 3.3 % at 48 hours. Erroneous delivery rates can result into serious adverse effects. The ECGF has the potential to save lives by providing accuracy and safety at 8% of the cost of a brand new infusion pump.

Philippa Ngaju Makobore has a BSc in Electrical Engineering from the University of Alberta, Canada and a professional certificate in Embedded Systems Engineering from the University of California, Irvine, USA. She is a recipient of numerous healthcare awards.


Nzola Swasisa  (Democratic Republic of Congo)   -Lokole

Nzola Swasisa

Nzola’s innovation, Lokole, is a device that enables access to efficient email communication anywhere with cellular coverage at a price that is one hundred to one thousand times cheaper than the price of  accessing email via regular cellular bandwidth. 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 schedule the uploads and downloads of data to when data bundle costs are at their cheapest. Cost per user could be as little as $0.01/person/day.

More than 71% of the African population does not have access to efficient communications. Lokole solves this challenge and enables many communities to access efficient communication for the first time. Applications of Lokole include: health (remote-doctor), education (remote-teacher), commerce (purchase orders via email), business (attachment documents) and many more.

Nzola Swasisa is a radio communications technician from the Congo DRC. Nzola has decades of experience working with telecommunications infrastructure and non-profits in underserved communities in the DRC, Angola, Zambia, Mozambique and Namibia.


Badr Idrissi (Morocco) -Atlan Space

Badr Idrissi

Atlan Space has developed a software technology that can be deployed to manage the operations of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or drones. The software is currently tested for use in managing operations to detect illegal or harmful maritime activities such as illegal fishing or oil spills over wide terrestrial and nautical expanses. UAVs operated by this software can be launched and deployed into monitoring operations, without having an aircraft operator. Also, by using Artificial Intelligence they are able to collect data and analyze and produce actionable reports.

African governments face numerous challenges in the monitoring of activities and operations over wide areas. These include border patrols, deforestation, animal poaching and maritime activity. The software allows for the deployment of UAVs at a very cost effective price, because it does not require an operator, long range transmission equipment or data analyst.

Badr Idrissi is CEO and Co-Founder of ATLAN Space,  a deep-technology startup. He is a former Microsoft Senior Account Executive, holds a MBA from École des Ponts Business School (Paris) and a Telecommunication Engineering Degree from ENSA.


Nokwethu Khojane (South Africa) –Lakheni

Nokwethu Khojane

Lakheni is a social and business model innovation which seeks to aggregate low-income households into buying-groups, in order to negotiate favorable discounts for goods and services supplied to these households. Most poor people end up paying for goods and services at a unit price that is usually much higher than the unit price paid by other people with more disposable income. This is because as goods and services are packaged into smaller and much smaller units to make them affordable, they become less economically-efficient and end up costing higher than if one was to buy in bulk or in larger units. In essence, the poor end up paying a poverty premium.

Through Lakheni, Nokwethu has developed an innovative business model that uses a mobile phone application to aggregate diverse women from townships in Cape Town (who are parents in day-care centers or members of church groups) into a buying group. She is then able to negotiate discounts and generate much needed savings to these low-income earners. She is helping them negotiate away the poverty premium. At the moment, service is focused on acquisition of food commodities and Nokwethu is looking at applying the same model to other sectors like financial services.

Nokwethu (39 years) is a co-founder of Lakheni. She has a background in Business and Marketing and Event management. She holds a Post Graduate Business Administration Diploma and a MBA, both from the University of Cape Town Graduate School of Business in South Africa. She is also involved in a number of charitable activities in South Africa. Nokwhetu’s Lakheni has a strong social change theme.

KEY SOURCE: innovationprizeforafrica.org


Are you an African inventor, innovator or product designer? Do you know an African who has developed a game-changing invention or innovation that could make life better? Outventors is not only a compendium of African inventors/innovators and their stories. It is also a gathering of momentum for inventors, innovators and product designers to meet mentors, contract manufacturers, investors and like minds, at upcoming Outventor MeetupsOutventor Forums and the Outventor 1.0 Summit coming up later this year. Inventors, Innovators and Designers interested in getting their stories out, seeking participation in Outventor events and/or actively looking for partnership to launch their prototypes into the market can fill this form.

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Cees Harmon14 Posts

    Cees (pronounced Case) is on the editorial team at outrepreneurs.com. He has been in the field of journalism for 11 years and counting. He relishes Banga soup with fufu.


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