Meet The Africa Prize For Engineering

In the last  two years, I’ve looked dead-serious in the eyes of a more than a few  founders, saying “you have a billion-dollar business in your lap!”

It’s  not much of leap to see the potential: already on a high-growth curve,  obvious social impact, fun people with business acumen and a sense of  real purpose in their lives.

Source Institute has worked with The Royal Academy Of Engineering to help Africa’s most promising engineers get their tech to market. The Africa Prize For Engineering Innovation has taken us all over Africa and on the week of September 12th, we’re all coming to London. This is your chance to meet and help! (Scroll to the bottom for the schedule.)

Let me tell you about some of them to see if you’re just as excited as I am.

Protein pack

The  first thing that surprised me about Kahit was that he had 400  employees. He seemed far too stylish and far too quiet to pull that off.

Caterpillars  are a traditional delicacy in Burkina Faso. They’re seasonal though.  Kahit Hein developed technology to harvest and store caterpillars, so  they can be eaten year-round.

Soon,  his company, Faso Pro, had 400 harvesters employed and a distribution  deal with Total, the country’s biggest petrol station chain. They’re  operating in tonnes, their quality and packaging rivals Total’s line of  foreign products. Kahit’s big on job creation in one of Africa’s poorest  countries, and since the day I met him, his goal has been to hit 10,000  employees.

Kahit Hein, founder of Faso Pro

Burkina’s  geography and lack of roads makes distribution of nutritious  food — like fruit — relatively difficult. Faso Pro’s systems rely on  Shea Caterpillars, which are particularly nutritious — so they set their  minds to an obvious opportunity: making nutritious snacks that kids  will eat. Kahit came up with their most successful product to date:  crunchy chilli caterpillar snacks, similar to the puffed corn snacks we  have in Europe and North America.

Faso  Pro is even more promising when look you at the demographic trends.  Burkina Faso’s population is set to double in the next 20 years. When  you expand to neighbouring countries with similar tastes, there’s even  more growth. The Shea tree already produces exports for beauty and  health products, now the caterpillar can hitch a ride, addressing the  growing insect protein markets around the world.

World Bank population data. Burkina Faso: 1986 to 2050

Faso  Pro have strong product development, branding, distribution and  packaging skills. Their biggest barrier to growth is working capital  because the harvest season only comes once per year, putting them on a  yearly working capital cycle. While Burkina Faso’s currency, the West  African Franc, is pegged to the Euro and managed in France, banks in  Burkina still don’t offer great interest rates. Faso Pro relies on  reinvested profits and crowdfunding debt, but are now pushing those  limits.

Let’s jump over to Uganda to meet two other Africa Prize alumni.

Sanitation for Africa

Sanitation Africa’s first sales & manufacturing facility in Masaka, Uganda

Samuel  Malinga, who I visited last year, has created a new type of septic  technology that makes sanitary toilets affordable to everyone in the  world. He founded Sanitation Africa with a set of sanitary technologies  he’d developed, and teamed up with a distribution mastermind, Joseph Kajerero, who previously introduced condoms to rural Uganda, and later created farmer exchange programmes for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to introduce high-tech  breeding methods. In a year, Sanitation Africa has scaled up to 3  locations and will soon be pushing outside of Uganda’s borders. I, for  one, want to be Sanitation Africa’s first European customer. These are  better outdoor toilets than I’ve ever seen, and my first choice for a  country house here in Europe. There’s global potential here when you  look eco and off-grid homes.

A solution to brownouts

Eddie  Sharita’s tackling Uganda’s chronic electricity brownouts with a system  that detects electricity theft, which is the most direct cause. He has a  1,000-unit pilot deal funded by Uganda’s biggest power company. Enough  said.

Standard Microgrid’s first deployment in Zambia

More than phones and lights with solar

Out  of South Africa, Matt Wainright has setup Standard Microgrid, which has  proven a new commercial model that can bring high-amperage,  industry-enabling power to rural villages. So far, every attempt to  bring power to these hard-to-reach places has been with small solar  systems, the kind that can power a reading light and a USB charger. This  means no refrigeration, no vaccines, no TV, no power tools, no light  industry. Standard Microgrid’s built an entire technology stack for  power, and proven a SaaS-like subscription business model for villagers  to buy power, enabling him to deploy high-amperage systems a village at a  time.

Both  Matt and Eddie are unassuming and constantly rise to the next challenge  with quiet, intelligent tenacity. They share a barrier though — strong  introductions to top-level management in Africa’s power companies. As  you might expect, those introductions come easier from abroad than working bottom-up.

Kenya’s Fintech means cold, digital cash

Chura’s founding team

Kenya  is Africa’s beachhead market when it comes to consumer technology. This  is the home of M-PESA mobile money, and a suite of follow-on  innovations that have only become possible in a country operating on  mobile money. One of those is Chura, an airtime/mobile money/data  exchange network. Most Kenyans have multiple SIM cards and it’s tough to  manage your cash between them. Chura’s exchange system is simple and  effective, and it’s a money-making machine.

20 Africa Prize alumni coming to London

That’s just a taste — and I haven’t even described the Africa Prize winners! We have 20 alumni joining us in London, and you’ll have a few chances to meet them.

Arthur Zang, Cameroon (Winner, 2016)
Cameroon  has 50 cardiologists for its 22 million citizens. The Cardio-Pad is a  medical tablet that enables heart examinations and diagnosis to be done  remotely by doctors and nurses.

Dr Askwar Hilonga, Tanzania (Winner, 2015)
This  innovation from Tanzania integrates nanotechnology with sand-based  water filtration to provide clean, safe drinking water. It’s cost  profile is allowing hundreds of local entrepreneurs to sell clean water.

Felix Kimaru, Kenya
Totohealth  is an information system that guides parents through pregnancy and  childhood by sending them vital maternal and child health information  via text-messages.

Dr Mercy Manyuchi, Zimbabwe
Bio-briquettes are a more cost-effective cooking fuel made from leftover corn stalks and leaves.

Taita Ngetich, Kenya
Illuminum  Greenhouse is a greenhouse made with local materials. Its solar panel  and sensor technology creates a controlled environment in which to grow  crops.

Brian Bosire, Kenya
UjuziKilimo is an analytical system that measures soil characteristics to help farmers understand and quantify soil qualities.

Femi Odeleye, Nigeria
The  Tryctor is a three-wheeled mini-tractor for small-scale farmers. It can  also be used as a mobile generator. Using low-cost local components, it  is affordable, easy to maintain, efficient and simple to operate.

Werner Swart, South Africa
The  Drylobag is designed to dry and store grain on small farms. In doing  so, the Drylobag prevents loss of food stocks and enables farmers to  harvest earlier.

Captain Abubakar Surajo “Captain Imam”, Nigeria
This  new innovation from Nigeria consists of a removable burglar-bar system  that enables a quick emergency exit from a building, enhancing safety  without sacrificing security.

Ayo Adigun, Kenya
DAA Stem Academy teaches engineering in Senior and Prep Schools in Kenya’s capital.

Musenga Silwawa, Zambia
Small-scale  farmers in Zambia typically apply commercial fertiliser to their crops  by hand, which not only results in inconsistent application but is  labour intensive and time consuming. Spot Agro is a fertiliser  applicator that eliminates fertiliser wastage and allows farmers to  apply fertiliser to targeted spots with one simple action.

Rujeko Masike, Zimbabwe
The  small to medium mining sector in Zimbabwe has a need for portable ore  crushing machines. This innovation scales down jaw and roller machines  and incorporates local materials to make affordable, portable and  appropriate crushing machines for local miners.

Ernst Pretorius, South Africa
Mounted to the wiring posts of a fence, the Draadsitter (Afrikaans for ‘fence sitter’) is a low-cost, high-sensitivity detection system for long fences, like Kruger National Park.

Bukhary Kibonajoro, Tanzania
Web-based monitoring software is designed to combat the theft of medical supplies across the Tanzanian hospital network.

Ian Mutamiri, Zimbabwe
An  Android application teaches children how to read in their mother tongue  by improving their syllable-to-sound association, thus improving their  overall ability to learn in schools.

Justin Nwaogwugwu, Nigeria
Macjames  is a consumer chemical products brand, including cost effective, safe  and innovative water treatment chemicals and biodegradable  multisurface/multipurpose Degreaser/cleaner for households and  industries.

London Schedule

September 12th: Join us at Source Summit: Humanitech, an unconference for technology that helps humanity. This is the best place to meet everyone and get to know them. Sign up here.

September 13th: We’ll be attending the Engineering A Better World conference, organised by The Royal Academy Of Engineering.

September 14th: NewGen Angels is organising an investor dinner to connect interested investors to The Africa Prize alumni. Pre-registration is now open.

Meetups all week: Some of us will be heading to the Hacker News meetup, and Product Tank. If you’re heading there too, let us know on Twitter and we’ll meet.

One-on-one meetings: If you’re interested in meeting any of our alumni, check this hort list of their innovations and will happily connect you directly.

Salim Virani

Salim Virani

Founder of Source Institute. I've developed educational programs for some of the world's top-tier accelerators and business schools, like Seedcamp, Oxford, UCL and the Royal Academy Of Engineering.