These 4 engineers are using entrepreneurship to make their innovations go big

The Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation has recently announced the top four engineering innovations from the continent. After given business training and mentorship, these engineers are now gearing up to take their products to market.

The innovations include a system that enables Kenyans to swap airtime for cash, nanofilters for clean water in Tanzania, fence-mounted warning system against theft and poaching in South Africa, and a precision fertiliser applicator to help Zambian farmers be more efficient.

The finalists were chosen out of 12 African entrepreneurs who were given a package of six months of business training and mentoring from the the UK’s Royal Academy of Engineering. The initiative is further supported by the Shell Centenary Scholarship Fund, Consolidated Contractors Company, ConocoPhillips and the Mo Ibrahim Foundation.

Below are the four entrepreneurs:

Dr Askwar Hilonga

Dr Askwar Hilonga is the Tanzanian finalist behind Nanofilters which is a low-cost sustainable water filter system. After an 33 publications on his trademarked Nanofilter, Dr Hilonga is developing his business plan for an innovation that could change the lives of thousands of Africans. Dr Hilonga wants to help community centres to become water hubs, filtering and selling water that is accessible to the most isolated and under-serviced communities.


Demonstration of filter at Magesho Primary School in Tanzania
“The mentorship programme and training have completely changed the business plan for my innovation,” says Dr Hilonga. “I’ve found new sources of interest-free loans and seed capital, changed the way I see my customers and learnt to communicate with them better. The impact is much greater than I imagined.”

Musenga Silwawa

Zambian Musenga Silwawa is behind the environmentally-friendly precision fertiliser applicator — a simple, efficient process of applying mineral fertiliser in the ground.

“Initially I wanted to conquer the world – and in the shortest possible time,” Silwawa says. “My attitude after the mentoring and training has changed. I plan more. I have a calculated approach. My team and I are more focused and we have a clear roadmap.”

Samuel Njuguna

Chura is the Swahili word for frog and enables Kenyans to leap airtime between mobile carriers, buy airtime in more convenient denominations, and even exchange it for cash. The 27-year-old software engineer notes that Chura has made around 15 000 transactions in the last 14 months, with a 60% return-customer rate.

“We’ve learnt a lot about marketing, and to sell our services better,” Njuguna says. “We’ve achieved good growth despite limited capital, and benefited a lot from the media attention around the Africa Prize.”

Ernst Pretorius

Forty-three-year-old electronic engineer Ernst Pretorius is behind the so-called Draadsitter (Fence-sitter in Afrikaans). The innovation is hailed for being both affordable and reliable, and can detect tampering on fences up to 800 metres long.


Ernst Pretorius’ Draadsitter
“The Africa Prize prompted me to reconsider my business plan and identify prototype functionalities I’d never thought of. I will always be grateful to the Royal Academy of Engineering for organising the Prize,” says Pretorius.

One of the chosen four will win £25 000 (US$38 000), while each runner-up will walk away with £10 000 (US$15 000).

“The finalists are an exemplar of African engineering innovation with remarkable potential,” says Dr Bola Olabisi, Africa Prize judge and CEO of the Global Women Inventors Innovators Network. “Their revolutionary ideas will help boost the standard of living for many sub-Saharan Africans. I commend all entrants and finalists for their determination and tenacity.”

The Royal Academy of Engineering also announced the opening of the second Africa Prize for engineers living and working in Africa. More information about that can be found here.



Sign up to our newsletter to get the latest in digital insights. sign up

Welcome to Ventureburn

Sign up to our newsletter to get the latest in digital insights.