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An impressive track record — that’s what helped Ghana to secure the hosting of this year’s Innovation Prize for Africa (IPA), says the competition’s director Pauline Mujawamariya Koelbl. The event, run by the African Innovation Foundation, takes place in Accra, Ghana on 17 and 18 July.
“Ghana’s leadership have put innovation at the centre of the country’s development agenda, and there is a clear commitment towards consolidating a thriving national innovation ecosystem. This is demonstrated by a commitment to dedicate one percent of gross domestic product (GDP) to innovation,” Mujawamariya told Ventureburn yesterday.
Singling out several innovation hubs in Ghana, she said the West African country is “rich and full of amazing potential”.
These she listed as: Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology (MEST), Africa Enterprise Hub, Innohub, Ghana Climate Innovation Centre, Ghana Centre for Entrepreneurship Employment and Innovation (GCEEI), iSpace, Impact Hub, Kumasi Hive, The Kumasi Business Incubator (KBI), Soronko Solutions, Social Enterprise Ghana and Africa 2.0.
Ghana is also home to Ashesi University, known for its educational experience that fosters ethical leadership, an entrepreneurial mindset and the ability to solve complex problems, she added.
Ghana is rich and full of amazing potential says Innovation Prize of Africa director
The IPA was established in 2011 with a goal of strengthening African innovation ecosystems through supporting a culture of innovation and competitiveness, while spurring growth of innovative, market-driven African solutions to African challenges.
The competition has been hosted previously in Ethiopia (2012), South Africa (2013), Nigeria (2014), Morocco (2015) and Botswana (2016).
Since its inception more than half of winners have raised funds, with a total of about $30-million raised so far.
Interest in the competition, which is now in its sixth year, has grown. In 2015 there were just over 900 applications. For this year there were over 2 500 — 19% from female applicants — up from just 10% last year.
Mujawamariya said she believes the growth in applications is linked to the IPA reputation and brand recognition.
“Innovators are now aware that IPA is more than a competition, that it is a movement with an outstanding network they can benefit from.
“Unlike other competitions, we reward the three winners and remaining 10 nominees with a very lucrative amount in cash ($185 000), and on top of this, we provide post-prize support to ensure they can move their innovations forward,” she said.
She added that testimony from past winners and nominees is likely one of the key factors that is driving the increase in applications.
She singled out last year’s winner of the grand prize of $100 000, Valentin Agon, from Benin.
Agon, who invented Api-Palu, an anti-malaria drug treatment made from natural plant extract, has since been able to increase his staff and production capacity to meet African market needs.
He’s also been able to get the drug registered by Benin’s public health authorities as an essential medicine, which has allowed him to make it available in public and private health facilities across the country.
In addition he has established distribution partnerships in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Congo Brazzaville and Angola, and is currently negotiating new partnerships in Nigeria and Uganda.
Turning to this year’s competition, Mujawamariya said judges were most impressed by the diversity of the kind of solutions proposed by African innovators. She pointed out that in selecting the 10 finalists the judges considered five selection criteria — originality, marketability, scalability, social impact and technical or scientific aspect.
Mujawamariya said backing innovation is key to driving socio-economic growth.
“It allows one to solve challenges in an effective and efficient way, and it also allows nations to capitalise on citizens’ skills set and increase their competitiveness. An innovative nation is a competitive nation,” she said.