Over the last years, the Innovation Prize for Africa has awarded some of Africa’s leading innovators, from people like Dr Imojen Wright whose company... TAKE 5: Innovation Prize for Africa’s Pauline Mujawamariya on strengthening Africa’s innovation eco-system

Over the last years, the Innovation Prize for Africa has awarded some of Africa’s leading innovators, from people like Dr Imojen Wright whose company can help HIV-positive patients discover the kind of drugs they are resistant to before it is too late. Our Reporter Collins Hinamundi asked the Programme Director at the Innovation Prize for Africa Pauline Mujawamariya to take 5 questions on her Organisation’s role within African Innovation. Read some of her Answers.

Pauline Mujawamariya Koelbl


Every year The Innovation prize for Africa awards social Entrepreneurs, what happens to the winners after they get the money?

Each year, IPA Winners receive a substantive cash amount (US$ 100 000 for the grand prize winner, 25 000 for the second prize, and 25 000 for the innovator with the highest social impact). Before receiving the money, all winners agree to use the money to further advance their innovations, based on the milestones already indicated during the selection process. After the event, we keep in touch with all winners and provide needed support and connections to our networks in order to help move their innovations forward.

For example, this week, Prof Barthélémy Nyasse, an IPA 2016 judge is in Cotonou, Benin to discuss steps needed to scale-up Api-Palu.  His visit is in line with the plan we have developed to support Dr Agon in order to scale up his innovation.  Dr Agon won the IPA 2016 Grand Prize for his Api-Palu innovation, and his goal is to introduce Api-Palu to all African countries struggling with Malaria. Among other stakeholders, Prof Nyasse will be meeting with key Ministers to discuss needed steps to scale up Api-Palu.

What does IPA hope to achieve in the long term?

An initiative of the African Innovation Foundation (AIF), IPA goal is to strengthen African innovation ecosystems through supporting a culture of innovation and competitiveness, whilst spurring the growth of innovative, market-driven African solutions to African challenges.

On the top of achieving the aforementioned goal, in the long-term, we hope to unlock the potential of African innovators so that we start finding more home-grown innovations on various African markets and beyond. We hope to catalyse actions which will lead to scaling up many African innovations on Pan-African and international markets. This will create more jobs for African youth and rebrand Africa as a continent with capabilities to solve its own challenges as well as global ones.

We have had situations where startups in SSA win at Startup competitions, fail to share money and breakup. What does IPA do to ensure this doesn’t happen to its winners?

The IPA application form requires that applicants specify who the owners of the innovation are and how they will use the money if they were to win. It is important that the answer shows how the money will be used to move the innovation to the next level. This same question is also asked during various interviews involved in the selection process. Moreover, all 10 nominees sign a form agreeing to use the money as already indicated in the application form. During our 5 editions, we have not seen any issues related to use of the money.

Why are startup and innovation prize winners not bringing their products to the market?

They are many reasons, and I will only highlight 2 focusing on innovative products: 1) Some innovative products do not make it to the markets because they are not responding to real market needs. Some innovators might create great products which are seen as nice and not solving any challenges, therefore, it might be difficult to commercialise such products.

Introducing new and innovative products requires good marketing strategy and some resources.  Different marketing strategies are needed depending on whether we are talking about disruptive products/breakthroughs or incremental innovations.

Consumers/users need to be introduced to the new products and innovators need to be ready to capture users’ feedbacks and make necessary changes to meet the market’s demands.  Unfortunately, many African innovators do not have access to the resources needed to properly market and adjust their products. This is why we call on various innovation enablers to join hands and mobilise funds needed to support African innovators from prototyping, piloting and fully commercialising such products.

It is also important to highlight that some innovators/entrepreneurs are able to bring their products to the markets. For instance, many IPA winners are making great progress towards not only introducing their products to the markets but also scaling up in other countries. The cash money they receive and marketing support from AIF help address the aforementioned challenge.  AgriProtein team, winner of IPA 2013 grand Prize is now focusing on scaling and have received a request for partnerships from over 40 countries.

 For the last 5 years, it has been said innovation hubs are what is missing on Africa’s startup scene. However, in East Africa for example, we have had Innovation hubs, dying and failing at the same rate as the Startups they are meant to be building. What do you think is missing in Africa’s startup scene?

While I am not an expert on startup scenes in Africa, I know that one should not generalise. Many innovation hubs have helped create communities of innovators and entrepreneurs and provided a conducive environment for them to flourish.

For instance, the success stories coming out of Ihub in Kenya are many! The question is why is Ihub has been so successful while other hubs might not be as successful? When I asked the same question to Erik Hersman, the Ihub co-founder and catalyst behind tech hubs in Africa, he indicated that the key is about building a community and an enabling environment with opportunities for innovators/entrepreneurs. What I have also observed in other successful hubs I visited (e.g. FabLab Namibia, Innovation Hub in South Africa, Technopark, Jokkolabs etc.), is that on the top of creating a community, the hubs have to connect various ecosystems of innovations which increases opportunities for innovators/entrepreneurs in that community.

Moreover, the success of community members depends on whether their products/innovations are responding to markets needs. It is not about creating the coolest APP, but creating a solution to a real problem.

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Collins Hinamundi