Six Nigerian innovators have been shortlisted among 10 others for the Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation (APEI), UK Royal Academy of Engineering.
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.
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 years shortlist offers 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.”
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.
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.
The complete list of selected technologies and candidates includes:
Innovator: Jacob Azundah
Aevhas is a high-efficiency Garri processing machine, used to process the tuberous roots of the cassava plant into Garri – a powdery flour and diet staple across West Africa. The onerous process of producing Garri includes peeling the cassava root, washing, grading, pressing it for starch, removing the water, sieving and frying. Aevhas sieves and fries more cassava root, faster than traditional methods. The technology offers two heating modes – charcoal and wood fire, or gas – depending on the resources of the customer.
The Aevhas processing machine can also sieve and fry either simultaneously, or at separate intervals. Processing cassava roots is laborious and time-consuming; conventional Garri processing machines can take up to four hours to sieve and fry, only producing a single basin of garri. This discourages many from going into cassava farming, while most current cassava farmers remain committed to the manual processing method.
This led mechanical engineer Jacob Azundah to design Aevhas, created to sieve and fry the cassava tubes in 20 minutes, significantly reducing barriers to profitability in the sector.
A motor drives an input shaft connected to a set of sprockets and chains. The sieving unit sieves the Garri using a pulveriser, breaking it down into small particles which are collected into a sieving chamber where they are separated from the chaff. A worker then engages the fryer, placing the now caked cassava into a carrier with curved blades. This carrier rotates about an axis, tossing the garri until it is ready for discharge. Aevhas is suitable for both community-based businesses and industrial use.
Pull quote: “Many will be encouraged to return to farming because of the simplicity in processing Garri, and as a result, we can greatly reduce levels of poverty and hunger. We hope that an increase in the number of cassava farmers will bring about food security in Nigeria.”
Innovator: Elohor Thomas
CodeLn is an automated tech recruitment platform that helps companies looking to hire people in the software engineering field. It is also an accessible learning tool, allowing novices and professional programmers alike to improve their coding skills, with special functions for those with additional needs, such as visually impaired and neurodiverse coders.
The web-based platform streamlines the recruitment process from three months to two weeks, allowing companies to source, screen, and interview potential candidates. A recruiter can post a job specification, immediately get matched with suitable candidates via CodeLn’s recommendation system, test the coding skills of the candidate and present them with an offer letter – all through one platform.
The artificial intelligence system can be integrated into existing apps and systems. Users can grow their skills through the platform’s Learning Assistant feature built on Google Assistant. Coders can expand their portfolios using CodeLn’s project-based skills assessments and qualify for their dream jobs. Job applicants will take a work sample test similar to what they will be employed to build. The test is monitored for cheating, and the product is graded according to programming and language framework best practices.
Systems engineer Elohor Thomas and her cofounders met during training at the Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology, where they shared their frustrations on the time-consuming recruitment process for software engineers. CodeLn is their solution.
Pull quote: “CodeLn is connecting African programmers to local and global job opportunities and providing them with the resources to grow in their careers. With over 100 million new tech jobs projected globally by 2025, we are preparing African youths and software engineers for new and exciting opportunities.”
Innovator: Faith Adesemowo
Innovation: Social Lender
Social Lender is a digital service that provides immediate access to formal financial services to those with little to no previous access.
Social Lender partners with service providers like banks, microfinance institutions, micro-insurance companies and agricultural input companies to offer facilities based on Social Reputation Scores. In ten minutes, t’s proprietary algorithm can perform a social audit of users based on their mobile, social media and other online activity. This digital fingerprint allows them to access credit, microinsurance organisations, farm inputs and other services. Members of their network are also able to act as social guarantors or referees for their activities.
Users can access Social Lender’s platform through the internet, SMS, USSD, mobile apps, APIs or partner bank ATMs. Social Lender ambassadors visit communities that do not have smartphones and help them access the platform.
More than 50% of Africans lack access to formal financial services. Most of these people are farmers, traders, artisans, young professionals, small business owners and students. Finance specialist Faith Adesemowo saw a need to address this challenge. Five years on from developing Social Lender, the platform has impacted the lives of more than 100,000 customers in Nigeria and South Africa.
Pull quote: “We aim to reach one million users in Nigeria in the next 12 months and help them gain access to financial services using the Social Reputation Score. They will also receive services such as financial literacy training, agricultural extension best practices training, and biometric registration for onboarding to Social Lender.”
Innovator: Olugbenga Olufemi Olubanjo
Reeddi is an energy system used to provide clean, reliable and affordable electricity to households and businesses operating in the energy-poor communities of sub-Saharan Africa.
Following the personal experience of countless blackouts and brownouts, control systems engineer Olugbenga Olubanjo developed the ’always ready’ Reeddi capsule system. Reeddi provides power to communities and businesses without electricity, at an affordable price. Its portable nature gives users to access electricity anywhere they go.
Reeddi capsules contain lithium-ion cells, improved by a proprietary battery optimisation algorithm to extend the lifespan of the capsule from two to four years, an increase from 500 to more than 1,200 charge cycles.
The energy system is divided into three parts: the brick-sized energy capsule, which stores electricity provided to users; energy crates, which are used to store the energy capsules when distributing or collecting them for recharging; and the recharging station. Reeddi capsules have a built-in wireless data transfer feature, which saves information related to energy usage, device location, battery levels, device analytics and general customer information. Energy usage data is used to optimise local operations and understand customers’ energy requirements.
Reeddi customers save up to 30% on their usual energy expenses with access to power anywhere, anytime. Reeddi currently recharges the capsules at a central location but intends to erect solar-powered energy charging stations in communities, allowing customers to recharge capsules themselves.
Reeddi currently serves more than 600 households and businesses each month, aiming to increase to 10,000 monthly customers across Nigeria in 2021.
Pull quote: “Reeddi’s novel solution relieves users of the mobility, cost, payment and flexibility constraints of other energy-generating options. When you need a reliable electricity supply, we are always ready’ with Reeddi.”
Innovator: Taofeek Olalekan
RealDrip is a medical device that simplifies essential intravenous therapy, used especially for pregnant women during drip and blood transfusions.
In the US and other high-income countries, typical infusion pumps cost anywhere from $5,000 to $15,000 and are not easily available. RealDrip improves access to precise and smart infusion at a 96% price reduction, with the units currently under development priced at $200.
Created by electronics engineer Taofeek Olalekan, the device is specifically aimed at maternal care units, to administer precise infusions to pregnant women during drip and blood transfusion treatments.
Olalekan hopes that RealDrip will not only improve access to infusion procedures but also free up essential medical professionals who work in ICUs, where infusion pumps are typically used. Where traditional infusion pumps require constant manual input and attention, RealDrip updates healthcare professionals remotely via web services and alerts. Using artificial intelligence to monitor dosages, flow rates and intake time, healthcare professionals no longer need to monitor patients’ infusions manually.
The system also stores each patient’s medical status, allowing medical practitioners to quickly calculate correct infusion drip rates. Current processes also require constant retraining on the traditional and complex infusion procedures, but unlike existing clinical tools, RealDrip is very simple to use.
The device operates via a dual-core chip with in-built Wi-Fi, allowing for two-way communication (M2M). Consisting of biosensors that measure and track the intravenous fluid, RealDrip uses edge computing to reduce latency and ensure timely responses from the RealDrip for measurement, analytics and data transmission to the cloud. An Anomaly Detection Algorithm improves efficiency, and an Automatic Reasoning Algorithm predicts, adjusts and maintains flow rate.
Following a successful clinical trial in Nigeria and regulatory approval, Olalekan and his team are now in the final design phase before manufacturing units for 27 hospitals that have pre-ordered RealDrip.
Pull quote: “We have positioned the product to potentially save the lives of 76,000 pregnant women and 500,000 babies every year. We are using the Internet of Things to shift healthcare from curing the sickness to enabling wellness.”
Innovator: Yusuf Bilesanmi
ShiVent is a low-cost, non-electric and non-invasive ventilator for patients with respiratory difficulties, available at a fraction of the cost of mechanical ventilators. Its simple design enables it to be operated by unspecialised healthcare workers.
The high price and shortage of mechanical ventilator systems in Africa have contributed to the deaths of thousands of patients. ShiVent is designed for under-resourced clinics with unreliable electricity supply and limited access to specialist knowledge. Energy infrastructure engineer Yusuf Bilesanmi and his team developed ShiVent in response to the strain placed on healthcare systems during the Covid-19 pandemic. Using the principles of Bubble CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure), the ShiVent blends air with a high-flow oxygen supply using a specifically designed Venturis air blender and delivers this to a patient still able to breathe by themselves. This is critical to the survival of patients experiencing respiratory distress.
The device only requires 150 to 200 cylinders of oxygen a day, at a rate of 5 to 12 litres of oxygen per minute (lpm). The Lagos State government currently uses 400 cylinders of oxygen a day, at 15 lpm.
With a global surge in Covid-19 cases, many countries’ healthcare systems lack the capacity to tackle this new challenge. Nigeria has as few as 288 mechanical ventilators serving almost 200 million people. The ShiVent is a simple, low-cost ventilatory alternative that does not depend on electricity and is widely replicable.
ShiVent has completed functionality testing at the National Centre for Sports and Exercise and Medicine at Loughborough University and Leicester Royal Infirmary Hospital. It has also undergone preliminary clinical feasibility tests at NIHR Leicester Biomedical Research Centre, Glenfield Hospital, renowned for coronary and respiratory diseases. The results demonstrate that the device is indeed functional and meets CPAP requirements set by the Medicines and Health Regulatory Agency in the United Kingdom.
Pull quote: “In designing our solution, we noted the requirements and guidance of the NHS and MHRA (Medicines and Health Regulations Authority) in the UK on the standards required for a medically-compliant ventilator. After 10 weeks of development and testing, we are proud to introduce what we call the ShiVent, a Bubble Continuous Positive Air Pressure device.”