Top Ten African Innovators to Watch

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Jean-Claude Bastos de Morais’ African Innovation Foundation (AIF) has unveiled the final nominees for the notable International Prize for Africa (IPA) 2016 award. IPA, an initiative of the African Innovation Foundation, has over the years become a significant platform that celebrates the African ingenuity, encouraging innovators and promoting needs-based innovations in Africa. These 2016 nominees selected from a number of countries in the continent provide local solutions to local challenges through their innovations. Below is a brief profile of each of these innovators and their innovative products:


(South Africa) – Imogen Wright

Dr. Imogen Wright is a South African scientist who holds a first-class degree in physics and computer science from Rhodes University, a Masters in Theoretical Physics from Canada’s Perimeter Institute and a PhD from the University of the Western Cape.

Imogen’s innovation, Exatype is a software solution that enables healthcare workers to determine HIV positive patients’ responsiveness to ARV drug treatment. According to WHO, 71% of people living with HIV/AIDS reside in Africa. Until now, governments’ response has been to ensure access to treatment for all. However, a growing number of people on ARVs are resistant to drug regimens, leading to failure of the therapy, exacerbating the continent’s HIV/AIDS burden.

Exatype processes the highly complex data produced by advanced “next-generation” DNA sequencing of the HIV DNA in a patient’s blood. Through a simple report, it detects drugs that are resistant to the patient, then highlights the need to avoid these to ensure successful treatment. Exatype has the potential to contribute towards effectively managing HIV/AIDS in Africa, and also holds promise in helping detect drug resistance for other disease burdens such as Tuberculosis (TB) and malaria.



Aceso (South Africa) – Kit Vaughan

Kit Vaughan is the CEO of CapeRay Medical. He has a post-doctoral fellowship in orthopaedic engineering from Oxford University, was a professor at the University of Virginia, and was the Hyman Goldberg Chair in Biomedical Engineering at the University of Cape Town (UCT).

Kit is a Fellow of the International Academy for Medical and Biological Engineering.Kit developed Aceso, an imaging technology, capable of performing full-field digital mammography and automated breast ultrasound at the same time, dramatically improving breast cancer detection. Annually, there are more than half a million cancer deaths in Africa and these numbers are expected to double in the next three decades. If diagnosed early enough, the cancer can be treated successfully. However, because 40% of women have dense tissue, their cancers cannot be seen on X-ray.

Furthermore, a false negative finding can have devastating consequences. Aceso is a single device that can acquire dual-modality images – full-field digital mammography and automated breast ultrasound – at the same time. This world first system is protected by international patents and has been successfully tested in two separate clinical trials with 120 women.


PowerGuard (South Africa) – Johan Theron

South African Johan Theron has a National Diploma for Technicians in Electronic Engineering. He has been involved in a number of ventures in the electronics industry dating back to the 70s and has seen a number of his inventions becoming industry standards.

He has also been recipient of a number of innovation awards.Johan developed PowerGuard, a technology that enables consumers to determine the maximum amount of power supply required for daily operations. Consumers can thus reduce their power demand, especially during peak times, leading to more efficient power supply, and helping to reduce power cuts. PowerGuard addresses electricity fluctuations, and power delivery and supply challenges by reducing the peaks, relieving pressure on the electricity network. Consumers can set their own maximum peak power usage needs. This technology substantially reduces load shedding and power rationing, diverting power to more productive industries.

Africa faces a high demand for grid power, but with limited resources and an aging infrastructure, the existence of a smart grid can help reduce the pressure on existing infrastructure while moving the continent slowly towards renewable energy.


Green Tower (South Africa) – Andre Nel

André Nel has an M.Eng degree (electronics and software) from the University of Pretoria in South Africa and has been registered as Professional Engineer since 1991.

Andre is passionate about energy efficiency and renewable energy, and has been developing solutions for the Green Economy since 2007. He is a recipient of several awards. Andre’s innovation, Green Tower is an off-grid water heating and air conditioning solution based on solar power that uses advanced thermos-dynamics to create up to 90% savings in electricity consumption. Water heating and air conditioning systems can account up to 60% of energy consumption in a home or building. There are a number of heating and cooling systems in the market, but few that have demonstrated consistency in efficiencies regardless of weather conditions.

The Green Tower improves efficiency of a solar heat pump with solar thermal collectors, low pressure storage tanks and heat exchangers. With Africa’s middle class rapidly growing and demand for energy outstripping supply, this initiative has the potential for large scale roll out. Green Tower can conserve limited energy resources, diverting them from heating and cooling systems to more productive industries.


Urine Malaria Test, UMT (Nigeria) – Eddy Agbo


Dr Eddy Agbo is a molecular bio-technologist from Nigeria, and Chairman/CEO of Fyodor Biotechnologies, promoters of UMT. Eddy has a PhD in Molecular Genetics from Utrecht University in Netherlands and a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from University of Ibadan, Nigeria. Prior to founding Fyodor, he held a senior research position at John Hopkins University, USA.Urine Test for Malaria (UMT) was developed by Eddy.

It is a rapid non-blood diagnostic medical device that can diagnose malaria in less than 25 minutes. Africa has the highest number of malaria cases worldwide; more often than not, when fever is detected, anti-malaria medication is administered. However, the inability to quickly diagnose and commence malaria treatment can lead to various complications including kidney failure, build-up of lung fluid, aplastic anaemia and even death. UMT uses a dip-stick with accurate results in just 25 minutes.

The technology detects malaria parasite proteins in the patient’s urine with fever due to malaria. The UMT is simple and affordable, and a potential game changer in managing malaria and saving lives across Africa.


Tuteria (Nigeria) – Godwin Benson

Godwin holds a first-class honours systems engineering degree from the University of Lagos in Nigeria and was best engineering Student and 3rd Best Overall Student in the entire graduating set. He worked briefly at ExxonMobil as an Onsite Support Engineer, and also at Deloitte Nigeria as an Information Security Associate before developing Tuteria.

Tuteria is an innovative peer-to-peer learning online platform that allows people who want to learn any skill, whether formal or informal, to connect with anyone else in proximity who is offering that skill. For instance, a student needing math skills can connect online with someone in their vicinity offering remedial classes in mathematics. The tutors and the learners form an online community that connects them, and once a fit is established, they meet offline for practical exchange. Both tutors and learners are thoroughly vetted to ensure safety, accountability and a quality learning experience.

Globally, conventional methods of education and learning are transitioning from centralized to distributed, and from standardized to personalized. Such trends have resulted in better learning outcomes. Tuteria fits in well with this model, and has been highly recommended by the IPA judges for the African continent.



The Tryctor (Nigeria) – Olufemi Odeleye

Femi Odeleye is an automobile designer with more than 18 years of experience in design and engineering from both Africa and Europe. He obtained a BSc in Mathematics and Statistics from the University of Lagos, Nigeria and a BA in Automobile Design from Coventry University, UK. He worked for the automotive industry in the UK before returning to Nigeria to work on the Tryctor.

The Tryctor is Femi’s innovation – a mini tractor modelled on the motorcycle. By attaching various farming implements, it can carry out similar operations as a conventional tractor to a smaller scale. Farming for most small scale farmers in the continent is tough, laborious and characterized by low productivity. Small scale farmers are constrained by the costs involved in switching to mechanized agriculture and use of heavy equipment. However, through inspired alterations to a motorcycle’s engine, gearing system and chassis, this innovation has made it possible to mechanize agriculture in Africa for small scale farmers in a way that was previously inaccessible.

Additionally, the Tryctor is easy to use and cheaper to maintain as 60% of its parts and components are locally sourced. The IPA judges were captivated by the clever adaptation of a motorized solution that is ubiquitous in Africa, largely for transportation to a solution for mechanized farming for small scale farmers.


The Plate Package (PLPAK (Egypt) – Youssef Rashed

Dr. Youssef Rashed graduated with an MSc degree from Cairo University, Egypt and received his PhD from the University of Wales, United Kingdom in 1997. He is currently a professor of structural engineering at Cairo University and the Deputy Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Universities in Egypt.

Youssef’s innovation is The Plate Package (PLPAK) a robust software solution that assesses the architecture of building plans or technical drawings, determining structural integrity of the end design. PLPAK applies the boundary element based method to analyse and view practical design on building foundations and slabs. This enables engineers to represent building slabs over sophisticated foundation models easily, building information modelling techniques and eliminating human error. With the rapid growth of African cities, there is increased demand for infrastructural developments to support the growing population. The infrastructure system in Africa, especially building architecture, tends to go untested due to huge associated costs in verifying structure integrity, and can lead to the collapse of buildings with many deaths. PLPAK addresses this through its low-cost, easy to use but world class tool.


Safi Sarvi Organics (Kenya) – Samuel Rigu


Samuel Rigu graduated with a degree in Agribusiness from the University of Nairobi in Kenya, and had previously founded two agribusiness companies. In 2013, inspired by visiting colleagues from MIT, Samuel co-founded Safi Organics.

Safi Sarvi Organics is the name of Samuel’s innovation – a low-cost fertilizer made from purely organic products and waste from farm harvests, designed to improve yields for farmers by up to 30%. Rural farmers in sub-Saharan Africa pay huge costs for fertilizer, which is often produced abroad and imported. Owing to such high costs, farmers can only afford the cheap, synthetic, and acidulated fertilizer varieties. In many areas where the soil is inherently acidic, use of acidulated fertilizers can lead to long-term soil degradation and yield loss, at about four percent per year. Safi Sarvi costs the same as traditional fertilizers, can reverse farmers’ soil degradation and lead to improved yield and income.

The product uses biochar-based fertilizer which can counteract soil acidity, retaining nutrients and moisture in the soil. Additionally, the carbon-rich fertilizer removes carbon from the atmosphere by at least 2.2 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent per acre of farm per year.


Api-Palu (Benin) – Valentin Agon

Dr Valentin Agon is from Benin and specialises in alternative medicine; he has received a doctorate for his research in this field. Valentin has been the recipient of several awards – both for his work on alternative medicine and promoting innovation and entrepreneurship in Africa.

Valentin developed Api-Palu, an anti-malaria drug treatment made from natural plant extract. It is significantly cheaper than available anti-malarial drugs, and has great inhibitory effects on 3D7 strains of plasmodium falciparum the causative agent of malaria. Sub-Saharan Africa is home to 88% of malaria cases and 90% of malaria deaths reported globally (WHO: 2015) with some African governments spending up to 40% of their public health budgets on malaria treatment.

Api-Palu manifests as a fast rate of malaria parasite clearance from the blood following short term treatment, with relatively lower doses. It is available in tablets, capsules or syrup. The drug has been approved in Benin, Burkina Faso, Tchad, and Central Africa Republic because of its therapeutic and non-toxic effects.

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