From smart bearings to group-buying app, meet Innovation Prize of Africa finalists

A mobile app that helps rally women into buying groups and a smart bearing that can boost energy efficiency in Africa — these are just two of the ideas from the 10 finalists that will attend the 2017 Innovation Prize for Africa (IPA) in Accra, Ghana in just over 10 days’ time.

The awards, which take place on 18 July and are hosted by the African Innovation Foundation (AIF), are now in their sixth year. The 10 finalists stand a chance to win a grand prize of $100 000, as well as a runner up prize of $25 000 and a special prize for social impact of $25 000.

Read more: AIF reveals names of 10 shortlisted for $100,000 Innovation Prize for Africa

Ventureburn took a look at the top 10 nominees for next month’s event that takes place in Accra, Ghana. Here they are:

Nokwethu Khojane (South Africa) – Lakheni


Nokwethu (39 years) is a co-founder of Lakheni. She has a background in business and marketing and event management and holds a post graduate diploma in business administration and an MBA, both from University of Cape Town’s Graduate School of Business.

She is also involved in a number of charitable causes in South Africa. Lakheni is a social and business model innovation which seeks to aggregate low-income households into buying groups in order to negotiate favourable discounts for goods and services supplied to these households.

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 centres or members of church groups, into a buying group. She is then able to negotiate discounts and generate much-needed savings for these low-income earners.

At the moment, service has focused on acquisition of food commodities and is looking to apply the same model to other sectors like financial services.

Peris Bosire (Kenya) – FarmDrive


Peris Bosire (26 years) is a social entrepreneur and co-founder of FarmDrive. She has a BSc honours in computer science from the University of Nairobi. She is also a winner of the prestigious 2016 Queen’s Young Leaders Award and the 2016 Commonwealth Youth Awards for Excellence in Development Work.

FarmDrive has developed a mobile phone 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.

Gift Gana (Zimbabwe) – Dr CADx


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 health careworkers diagnose medical images more accurately. Due to the scarcity of radiologists on the continent, most medical images are read by general doctors or other health-care workers who lack expertise and end up misdiagnosing more than 30% of the cases that they review.

Gana’s system uses deep learning to recognise patterns that are characteristic of the disease in the images. The current prototype achieves an accuracy of 82% which is an improvement on the 70% average for radiologists.

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


Omolabake Adenle (35) is the founder of AJA.LA Studios, a startup with 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 Honours Fellow.

Abake has developed software that can understand and digitise spoken African languages, and synthesise speech from African languages presented as digitised text. Digitising 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.

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.

Dougbeh Nyan (Liberia) – A new technology for rapid detection of many infections using only one test


Dr Dougbeh 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 and earned a degree in human-medicine (infectious diseases) from the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin Medizinische Fakultät–Charité in Germany. He was later trained as a biomedical scientist at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in the US.

Nyan 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 limited expertise in high-tech diagnostics.

He 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 Nature-Scientific Reports.

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


Dr Aly El-Shafei received his bachelor’s degree and Master’s degree from Cairo University, Egypt, and his PhD from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) — all in mechanical engineering. El-Shafei is a recipient of several grants and awards.

His patented innovation (SEMAJIB) is a smart bearing which is versatile and can change its characteristics as it operates. It consists of a magnetic bearing embedded in an oil-filled journal bearing, thus forming the smart controllable bearing.

The device is designed to be used to support energy generating turbines and can be used to improve efficiency and reduce costs of generating energy in Africa.

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


Philippa 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 in the US. She is a recipient of numerous healthcare awards.

Makobore’s innovation 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 utilising a hybrid (AC mains and solar) charging bed powers the device.

Olanisun Adewole (Nigeria) – Sweat TB Test


Olanisun Adewole, is a Nigerian physician and a reader in medicine at Obafemi Awolowo University, Nigeria. He has MBBS degree (University of Ibadan, Nigeria) and a postgraduate degree in Internal Medicine and Pulmonology from the Postgraduate Medical College Nigeria. He is a recipient of several awards.

Adewole’s innovation, Sweat TB Test, is a non-invasive rapid diagnostic test to detect tuberculosis (TB). TB is second only to HIV/AIDS as a leading cause of death in Africa.

Sweat TB Test leverages TB being a specific marker that shows up in the sweat of patients, to produce a point-of-care test to detect TB, within ten minutes, without any needle prick.

Nzola Swasisa (Democratic Republic of Congo) – Lokole


Nzola Swasisa is a radio communications technician from the Democratic Republic of 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.

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 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 metre radius can access the network and share the costs. Secondly, it contains advanced algorithms that compress email and also schedules the uploads and downloads of data to when data bundles costs are at their cheapest. Costs per user could be as little as one US cent per person a day.

Badr Idrissi (Morocco) – Atlan Space


Badr Idrissi is CEO and co-Founder of Atlan Space, a deep-technology startup. He is a former Microsoft senior account executive, who holds an MBA from École des Ponts Business School (Paris) and a Telecommunication Engineering Degree from ENSA.

Atlan Space develops software technology that is then deployed to manage the operations of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or drones. The software is currently tested for use in managing operations in detecting illegal or harmful maritime activity such as illegal fishing or oil spills over wide expanses.

Ventureburn editor Stephen Timm will attend the Innovation Prize for Africa in Accra, Ghana as a guest of the African Innovation Foundation.



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.