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 photovoltaic (PV) installations 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, who have all received eight months of training and support through the Africa Prize.
“Despite a global pandemic placing immense pressure on entrepreneurs worldwide, we’ve been inspired by these four innovators’ ability to adapt, collaborate, and thrive,” says Africa Prize judge and Cameroonian entrepreneur Rebecca Enonchong.
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.
“The Africa Prize is more than just an award. 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,” adds Enonchong.
To date, the 86 Africa Prize alumni businesses have raised more than $14-million in grants and equity and created more than 1 500 new jobs, with over 50% of these going to women and a significant proportion to disabled people and youth.
This year’s finalists hail from Ghana, Nigeria and Uganda.
From Nigeria, Farmz2U is a digital platform that reduces food waste by helping farmers better 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 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 fellow co-founders developed the software after their research revealed that Ghana’s banks have a significant problem with identity fraud and cybercrime, with about $400-million spent annually by Ghanaian financial institutions to identify their customers.
While facial recognition software is not 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.
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 Remot's offices in Kampala, the hardware device nicknamed ‘Davix’ is being used to monitor solar PV plants at nearly 500 schools, 11 solar-powered maize mills and solar-powered water pumps on office blocks in the Democratic Republic of Congo, 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 Uganda, Dr 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.
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. 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.
This year's finalists will pitch their innovations to a panel of judges and a live online audience on September 3. The winner will be announced during the virtual event.
The first prize is £25 000, with each of the runners-up to receive £10 000.
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 for this.
The deadline for entries is September 14.