Africa is witnessing an incredible new movement –entrepreneurs and innovators across the continent, creating solutions for African challenges and the world! Writes Pauline Mujawamariya Koelbl
Innovation – the state of play
Africa has its own unique context – its own incredible opportunities as well as some of the most difficult challenges. Many African nations are growing in a post-colonial and/or post-conflict environment with deficits in skills, technologies and infrastructure. By being the citizen of a developing nation, a young African adult has fewer career choices than some western counterparts. This is a sad reality but one that also presents Africa with opportunities for its people with drive and energy. Many examples such as the Pyramids in Egypt, Lalibela city in Ethiopia, the Great Mosque of Djenné in Mali etc. demonstrate how innovation is not a new concept to Africans. This is why, institutions such as ours, the African Innovation Foundation (AIF), focuses on increasing the prosperity of Africans by catalysing the innovation spirit in Africa. Through our Innovation Prize for Africa (IPA) initiative, we have been mobilizing for African innovators, showcasing their ingenuity and collaborating with innovation enablers to strengthen African innovation ecosystems.
The timing is perfect because the growth that many African nations have experienced over recent years have given birth to a new wave of ‘opportunity entrepreneurs’, whereby young people now see a positive reason for wanting to innovate and become an entrepreneur. In fact, a whole new generation of young adults are using their ingenuity to build new products and services that not only create solutions for African challenges but have strong commercial growth prospects with some being relevant globally. Of the top ten countries with the highest percentage of adults who are starting businesses, five are African (Global Entrepreneurship Monitor). The growth of enterprise and innovation hubs across the continent are an important part of that story.
A World Economic Forum article in May 2016 shows the staggering pace of investment in technology start-ups in Africa between 2012 and 2016. VC’s invested $40,665,000 in 2012. That figure rose to $414,018,222 by 2014 and is projected to reach $608,192,366 by 2018. While this is great news, it is still challenging to secure investments for early stage innovations needing a modest amount (between US 1 000 – 25 000) to pilot and benchmark these innovations before introducing them to the markets.
Hubs and African innovation ecosystems
Across the continent, innovation hubs are mushrooming with a goal of providing co-working spaces at affordable fees and a platform for attracting support to incubate and accelerate innovations and other entrepreneurial projects. Some incubator hubs typically offer seed funding in exchange for an equity stake – a model that continues to be relevant but is restricted to ventures that demonstrate strong commercial viability. There are also Maker-spaces, an evolution of the traditional hubs; community-operated workspaces that are designed as a perfect platform for entrepreneurs interested in working with their hands, to make things, prototype and receive feedback from peers with common business interests. It is also a good platform to meet, socialise and collaborate.
In Angola, Fabrica de Sabao is a new model of Innovation hub designed to provide access to marginalized innovators and entrepreneurs. It’s an innovative, cultural and creative hub in the middle of Cazenga, Luanda with a special focus on stimulating local start-ups through knowledge transfer and capacity building, incubation and acceleration of companies. This includes preparing companies for funding/seed capital with peer-to-peer mentorship and networking. It features a ‘Co-working Space’, which fosters a collaborative culture for creative idea generation; a Makerspace that brings the informal sector to life through urban manufacturing. It also provides a cultural exchange platform, local radio station and a residence program for visiting mentors and artists.
Many organizations in Africa understand that besides offering support to entrepreneurs, there is a need to provide an enabling environment for them which stimulates innovation and creates incentives. It is especially important to reach those who have incredible talent but no business background. The African Development Bank (AfDB) launched its first Innovation Weekend in 2015, with the goal of finding technology-led solutions from West Africa – particularly ideas that better the lives of women and youth. This is great because 15 to 24-year-olds represent 60% of those unemployed in Sub-Saharan Africa and 72% live on less than $2 a day – most of them young women.
Also, organisations such as the African Innovation Foundation (AIF) are pushing the envelope when it comes to finding financial solutions. Our annual competition, the Innovation Prize for Africa (IPA) offers a total cash prize of US$ 150 000 to three winners ( 1st prize of US $100,000, 2nd prize of US$ 25 000 and the special Prize for Social Impact of US$ 25 000). In addition, each one of 7 nominees receives 5 ‘000 US$ to help boost their innovations. Moreover, AIF provides post-prize support to help attract investments for piloting and scaling up selected innovators. We have demonstrated the importance of substantial cash prizes in attracting interest from other stakeholders and how supporting home-grown innovations can genuinely transform African societies and beyond. Not only such prizes provide much needed cash, but they also incentivise and promote needs based innovations and provide a platform to market, position and showcase African innovations by Africans for Africans and the world. .
The IPA goal is to strengthen African innovation ecosystems through supporting a culture of innovation and competitiveness, whilst spurring growth of innovative, market-driven African solutions to African challenges. IPA call for entries for IPA 2017 runs for three months starting Tuesday 27 September 2016 with a submission deadline of Tuesday 3 January 2017 at 11:59pm GMT. The IPA is looking for innovations in manufacturing and service industry, health and well-being, agriculture and agri-business, environment, energy and water, and Information Communication Technologies (ICT) showcasing solutions to African challenges. We also welcomes Innovations beyond the scope of these sectors.
IPA impact on the winners’ ventures and communities is big. For instance, the US$ 100 000 cash prize awarded to 2015’s 1st prize winner, Professor Adnane Remmal, has enabled him to move up a gear in his production and distribution capacity. He created a new, natural alternative to antibiotics for livestock. This is a composition of natural phenolic molecules with anti-microbial (anti-bacterial, anti-parasitic, anti-fungal) properties. This natural and innovative formula reduces the health hazard to cattle and humans, and prevents the transmission of multi-resistant germs and possible carcinogens through meat, eggs and milk to humans at no extra cost to farmers. The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as many other world bodies, has insisted that antibiotics, “Must be used judiciously in humans and animals because both uses contribute to the emergence, persistence and spread of resistant bacteria.” Professor Remmal’s alternative to antibiotics has no side-effects or resistance.
Innovations such as Prof Remmal’s are at the heart of IPA’s parent organization, AIF, which works with multi-sectoral stakeholders and focuses on specific industries and disciplines where innovation is needed in Africa. Innovations that provide solutions to African challenges and/or have a meaningful and sustainable social impact are awarded.
Preparing for success
Through IPA, AIF supports African innovators and work with innovation enablers to strengthen African innovation ecosystems in a way that prepares innovators for success. Such ecosystems are important for African innovators and shall provide business friendly platforms for: training, guidance/coaching, networking, sharing experience and feedback, prototyping and acceleration, pitching to investors etc. Not all innovators are business people, therefore, they need to be supported to learn entrepreneurial skills required to take their innovations to the markets.
Acknowledging the importance of bringing together key actors of African innovation ecosystems, each year, the IPA brings together academics, policy makers, entrepreneurs/innovators, media and investors to network, exchange knowledge and discuss potential collaborations. Through IPA event platform, candidates receive support and training in areas including communications, intellectual property and business models and development. The objective is to prepare innovators for a world of commerce – which is crucial in contributing to successful innovation ecosystems and a sustainable diverse economy. Preparation for the world of business is crucial if great innovations are to succeed – especially when such innovations are tackling the most pressing challenges.
Importance of supporting needs-based and home-grown innovation
IPA offers a perfect platform to identify, position and reward home-grown innovations responding to real needs and tackling primarily African challenges. Some of such of innovations can be qualify as garage types following the maker movement, while others are high level involving research and development (R&D). For instance, in 2014, Logou Minsob from Togo won the second prize of US$ 25 000 for his innovation, Foufou Mix. This is a food processor manufactured in Togo and is designed to replace the mortar and pestles (carved wood), used to prepare Foufou, a popular dish in West Africa. The Foufou Mix allows you to easily prepare Foufou without the pounding that has traditionally been associated with the preparation. It allows for quick and hygienic preparation in 8 minutes maximum. Pounding of yam for Foufou has traditionally been done by women and is a long and arduous process, use of this device helps to free up the woman. Foufou being a typically African dish, this innovation provides a solution not currently being contemplated by international manufacturers. Foufou mix also allows pulping palm nuts in 2 minutes. Overall, Foufou Mix opens up possibilities for a creation of a whole new Africa industry for manufacturing of such an appliance on the continent.
This year in June, Dr Valentin Agon from Benin won the IPA Grand Prize of US$ 100 000 for his innovation, Api-Palu, an anti-malaria drug treatment made from natural plant extracts. 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. AIF is working with Dr Agon to introduce this solution to Malaria to other African countries.
These two examples are testimonies of Africans providing solutions to African challenges. Such solutions can only come from Africans, and it is important to support them and help scale such innovations.
Innovation success stories such as these are important because they deliver much more than economic growth and diversification, they deliver social change and unlock potentials. They also create jobs and contribute to inclusive growth. Nurturing innovation and providing investments and enabling environment for African innovators can tick all the boxes: social impact, job and wealth creation and economic diversification. And because social impact innovation is so powerful, joining hands with AIF and supporting the Innovation Prize for Africa (IPA) is an opportunity for every African nation.
Connecting innovators and innovation enablers with resources
Since 2012, IPA has been providing substantive cash to winners and utilizing its platform and networks to attract additional support and investments. To date, IPA has attracted over 6 700 innovators from 51 countries and has directly supported 45 selected innovators with over US$1 000 000. Beyond this direct support, IPA has generated more than US$ 14. 5 Million Value for these innovators. IPA provides a rare opportunity to place innovation at the top of the national agenda, receive international media attention and position themselves as a nation that is open for business to investors looking to invest in local innovations. Clearly, IPA opens doors for African innovators and connects them with needed resources.
Previous IPA editions were held in Botswana (2016), Morocco (2015), Nigeria (2014), South Africa (2013) and Ethiopia (2012). IPA was endorsed at its inaugural edition in Addis Ababa in 2012 where African ministers at the joint Africa Union (AU) and United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) passed a resolution to support AIF to promote innovation-based societies across the continent.
The recent IPA (IPA 2016) was held in Botswana, hosted by the Government of Botswana, and HE Lt. Gen. Dr Seretse Khama Ian Khama officiated the IPA Awards event. One of the country’s innovation enablers spoke of the importance of the Awards and the impact it has had on Botswana and the Innovation Hub (BIH). Its Chief Executive Officer, Alan Boshwaen, said that hosting the awards have created many advantages including, “Gaining international exposure has helped make local innovations more exposed to international funding opportunities. The awards have also put the spotlight on the work that the hub is doing, as well as other players in the industry”. Mr. Boshwaen has also stated that “the IPA helped the BIH to create new, international collaborations with organizations that help upscale the creativity of local innovators and boost their ability to compete internationally”.
During the IPA 2016 Awards event, HE Lt. Gen. Dr Seretse Khama Ian Khama
President of Republic of Botswana; stated “I have read with keen interest the African Innovation Foundation’s IPA journey during the last 5 years, seeking excellence and ingenuity in African innovators and inventors. Your ability to build and drive a brand around mobilising African innovators and entrepreneurs, who deliver market oriented solutions to African challenges and supporting them through your processes is unique and most relevant now than ever for our continent. I would like to emphasise that the future of Africa, as a continent, lies within our ability to be self-sustained in products and services, as well as in maintaining a steady growth of world class entrepreneurs in the Science Technology and Innovation space.”
We are humbled by his statement and share the same view regarding the Future of Africa.
We also have a network of over 130 innovation enablers across Africa and beyond ready to work with us to support African innovators. Moreover, we have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) to work together and support African innovators on Intellectual Property (IP) related matters.
Preparing for 2017
This year, in preparation of the IPA 2017 Awards, we plan to do a roadshow by visiting the following five African countries shortlisted as potential IPA 2017 host country: Cote d’Ivoire, Rwanda, Senegal, Tanzania and Togo. The tour will involve AIF representatives holding briefing sessions with Government representatives, key partners and potential sponsors, advising on how to maximize the event, achieve widespread media coverage, encourage participation and advise on how innovators, inventors and entrepreneurs can apply. We invite any country interested in hosting IPA in future to get in touch with us.
Hosting the IPA is a fantastic way to showcase and position local innovators. This is a also seen as a testimony that the country is as placing innovation at the top of the agenda. In addition, host nations have a unique opportunity to send a strong signal to the world that their country is open for business to investors and foreign firms. IPA media partners help amplify such message across key media channels including international ones.
A call to action
Five years ago, AIF initiated the IPA to support African innovators by unlocking their potential and catalysing the African innovation spirit, promoting home-grown innovative solutions for Africa’s prosperity. Today, IPA is a leading platform on the African innovation landscape with outstanding impact record (see the infographic for overall IPA impacts).
Over the last five years, we have proven how investing in African talents can transform the continent and spur socio-economic growth in Africa. We have showcased African home-grown innovations solving Africa’s pressing challenges and our support allowed scaling up some of these innovation in other African markets. We now call upon investors, policy makers and other innovation enablers to work with us and provide more support which will unleash the potential of African innovators and entrepreneurs. Among other, innovation can address unemployment issues among African youth who represent over 65% of Africa’s 1.1 billion population. African youth are an “innovation force” to be reckoned with, and investing in innovation is capitalizing on this force.
We invite innovation movers and shakers including policy makers, investors and other innovation enablers to join hands, and provide enabling environments and more support for African innovators and entrepreneurs. We believe in Africans capability to create solutions to African challenges, and we know what is lacking is sufficient resources to unleash their potential.
There are many ways one can get involved with AIF: either by hosting IPA annual event, becoming a sponsor or a partner, contributing to post-prize activities to support selected innovators and build their capacity as well as investing directly into the IPA winners and nominees’ ventures.
Sponsors and partners gain substantial benefits from being associated with IPA, due to its high visibility and the enormous exposure generated before, during and after the event. The IPA is supported by an exhaustive social, print and broadcast media campaign; alongside round-table events, speaker opportunities and conferences that foster engagement between organizations and African innovators. For organizations that share the IPA’s values of sustainable economic development and innovation as a route to finding African solutions to African challenges; IPA event is an opportunity to become involved with one of the most important movements on the continent and contribute to Africa’s prosperity.
This is a crucial moment in Africa’s history, as it climbs out of oil dependence and strives towards a new model of economic diversity and knowledge economy. This new era represents a new industrial revolution – not just for Africa but for the world. All eyes are on our extraordinarily young continent, which can deliver knowledge-based solutions that will benefit Africa and the entire planet. From sustainable solutions in agriculture that can transform crop production, to brand new technologies that help in the fight against malaria, antibiotics resistance, TB or HIV; or energy solutions that meet the challenges of climate change. Africa is the best place in the world to beat some of the most intractable challenges that we all face, and we can use innovation to leapfrog the so called developed countries. We just need to invest in the future: our youth and innovation.
As they say, necessity is a mother of invention, and we are blessed to have many challenges in Africa needing to be solved. Our youth is confident and eager to innovate and they need the tools, enabling environment and wherewithal to unleash their potential – let’s join hands in making it happen.
About the Author
Pauline Mujawamariya Koelbl is the IPA Program Director at the African Innovation Foundation (AIF) and is also responsible for managing the innovation and technology programs of the Foundation. Mrs Koelbl focuses on cultivating market-orientated solutions for African-led development across the continent, building innovation ecosystems that will invigorate economic growth across Africa