Out of a total of over 2500 applications, 10 nominees were selected, to be present at the Innovation Prize for Africa (IPA) 2017 awards, which took place in Accra Ghana on the 17th and 18th of July 2017. However, the African Innovation Foundation (AIF) awarded three out of the top 10 nominees for their outstanding innovation.

Aly El-Shafei of Egypt emerged as the Grand Prize winner of US$ 100,000, for his invention Smart Electro-Mechanical Actuator Journal Integrated Bearing (SEMAJIB). SEMAJIB is a smart bearing that significantly improves turbine performance in single line combined cycle plants as well as conventional generator technology. Patented in the US since 2010 with another patent pending, the device is designed to be used to support energy-generating turbines more efficiently and cost-effectively in Africa.

Philippa Ngaju Makobore of Uganda landed the Second Prize of US$ 25,000 for her invention known as Electronically Controlled Gravity Feed Infusion Set (ECGF) by Philippa, who bagged the Second Prize of US$ 25,000. ECGF 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 utilizing a hybrid (AC mains and solar) charging bed powers the device. IV infusions are critical for both adults and children in various situations

Dougbeh-Chris Nyan of Liberia won US$25 000 special prizes for Social Impact for his invention. He developed a rapid test that can detect and simultaneously differentiate at least three to seven infections at the same time. His diagnostic test is fast and easy to use in any setting and is able to detect and distinguish multiple infections, which bear the same symptoms for instance when a patient has yellow fever, malaria, and Ebola. Whereas most testing methods take three to seven days, this device gives test results in ten to forty minutes.

Ventures Africa spoke with the outstanding winners of the 2017 Innovation Prize for Africa winners in order to find out what they are doing with the prize they won, Milestone hit in this journey and the advice they have for the next entrants of the IPA Awards. This is what they had to say

What they intend to do with the prizes won

Aly El-Shafei the grand prizewinner said that “the cash prize won would be used to better protect the patent around the world. Currently, we are at a stage where we have completed laboratory testing of the SEMAJIB prototype, and we are ready to build an industrial prototype. We are currently seeking funding to build this prototype, as there is industrial interest in the SEMAJIB. The next step is to build a testing and assembly plant to produce the SEMAJIB.”

Philippa Ngaju Makobore the Second prizewinner also stated that “the funding will support our core activities, which include technology development, clinical validation and regulation with the end goal of obtaining a CE mark so that the device can be available on the local and regional market for sale.”

Dougbeh-Chris Nyan also said “we at Shufflex Biomed will use the prize money to buy some laboratory equipment as we are in the process of producing the 2nd Generation Prototype of our multiplex pathogen diagnostic test. Our aim is to produce a very high quality cost-effective diagnostic test that addresses the needs of the underserved populations in Africa and the world. “

How they felt when they were announced winners 

Being a winner comes with a lot of excitement but people are different about the way they feel when they are announced winners. But this is how the IPA 2017 winners felt.

“I felt I was proud to be an African. I felt that the decision to stay and live in Africa has paid off. I was thankful for all the blessings. I was thankful for the support I received from my parents, from my wife, from my brother and sister and from my children. I also felt that the IPA is a professional organization, particularly reflecting back on the process,” said Aly El-Shafei.

“It was an amazing experience and a validation that our efforts to design a medical device that is appropriate and affordable are on the right track,” said Philippa Ngaju Makobore

“Well, it was a “special surprise.” Because, being among nine other brilliant innovators from the African Continent, I definitely expected that the judges’ decision would go in any direction. Therefore, the announcement of my name as the special prize winner really came as a surprise to me. I was astonished, yet it was a feeling of being appreciated and my innovation being recognized; this was also a validation of my hard work. Imagine what a great honour it was to win a special prize for social impact for my innovation on July 18, Nelson Mandela’s birthday!” said Dougbeh-Chris Nyan.

The most difficult part of starting their innovations

“I do not think that anything is difficult. It is a long process that requires perseverance,” said Aly El-Shafei.

“The fact that the medical device industry is heavily regulated and there are numerous approvals that you must go through before the device can be used on patients,” said Philippa Ngaju Makobore.

“I must say that it was quite a challenge initiating my diagnostic project amidst the scarcity of financial and material support to test out my ideas — that it was possible to rapidly detect several pathogens and simultaneously differentiate them using one test. But, I was not discouraged by these challenges. Instead, I continued to press forward with determination, test out my hypothesis day by day, from one experiment to the other, and from one laboratory result to the other. And today, here we are, being recognized and winning the 2017 African Innovation Special Prize for Social Impact,” said Dougbeh-Chris Nyan.

Milestones hit in this journey

With the Grand Prize, I have received international recognition. This visibility is useful for the SEMAJIB marketing. – Aly El-Shafei

We have successfully attained Institutional Review Board (IRB) approval to test the device on adult patients for our first Clinical Pilot this September 2017. – Philippa Ngaju Makobore

We have come a long way now with this project. I think the independent peer review publication of our work in Nature-Scientific Reports and the International Journal of Infectious Diseases was a major achievement of this innovation. Also, we are presently at the stage of producing the 2nd Generation Prototype of our multiplex pathogens diagnostic test for various infectious diseases. We have confirmed field trail clinical sites in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Ecuador and are eager to deploy for field trials once we get funding and partnership. Notably, we recently won the 2017 African Innovation Special Prize for Social Impact. I think these are remarkable accomplishments. But importantly, we are looking forward to producing this test so that the population will have access to affordable, simple-to-use, and effective diagnostics test that can detect and identify multiple infections, and produce the test results in less 10 to 40 minutes. –  Dougbeh-Chris Nyan

Advice for next year’s IPA entrants

The winners of the 2017 IPA awards could not have ended their chat without some advice for the 2018 IPA entrants.

“Be open, be objective, describe the technical innovation, but also describe its benefits and clearly identify the business plan,” said Aly El-Shafei.

“It’s a competitive prize but give it your best and you will definitely stand out of the crowd. Everyone’s journey is different but as long as you are passionate about what you do, you will definitely make an impact with your innovation,” Philippa Ngaju Makobore.

“First of all, let me say “shout out” to all of you 2018 IPA entrants! I admonish you to be confident, diligence, and courageous. Believe in yourselves and your innovations you are presenting. Be the best judge of your own innovation. But, be mindful that the IPA nomination process is a stringent and gruelling exercise. This is no joke! You must be very focused and give it your best. To those who will reach the 2018 IPA Final 10, let me say, do not be intimidated, just relax, be yourselves, and enjoy the event. After all, the Final 10 of you are the stars not only of Africa but stars of the whole world. That alone is a remarkable achievement for you!” Dougbeh-Chris Nyan.

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