Five Nigerian innovators have been shortlisted among 11 others for the 2022 Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation (APEI) – UK Royal Academy of Engineering, which recognizes ambitious African innovators who are developing scalable engineering solutions to local challenges.
The shortlist ranges from an off-grid neonatal crib for jaundiced babies and a portable vaccine fridge to a hydrogen fuel-cell generator that runs on gas, and a natural, plant-based fibre that clears up oil spills.
In 2017, the Prize was won by a Nigerian innovator, Godwin Benson, who developed Tuteria, an online platform that connects people seeking to learn ‘anything’ with verified local experts who can teach them what they want to learn, as well as ensuring safety, accountability and quality learning delivery.
For his rare ingenuity, Benson has been publicly supported by Meta founder, Mark Zuckerberg, while also being pitched to Prince Andrew in London.
Here are the five Nigerians shortlisted for 2022 Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation (APEI)
Innovator: Femi Taiwo
TERAWORK is a freelance platform that helps business owners safely outsource key skills as and when needed. Electrical engineer Femi Taiwo and his team developed the online system after a bad experience with a freelancer who didn’t deliver what was promised.
The TERAWORK platform lets users commission, brief, manage and pay freelancers working in a variety of fields – from software development to accounting, marketing, writing, design and more. This allows businesses to hire part-time skills that are not part of their core service or product, giving the business financial flexibility when it’s still growing. It also increases the field of available talent by allowing customers to work across large distances, an increasingly popular option as remote working becomes more accepted.
Commissioning customers looking to hire a freelancer can see a range of potential contractors’ portfolios, experience, reference projects and performance on the TERAWORK platform. This includes their job completion rate, customer ratings and reviews, and their costs.
For freelancers, the platform provides a more secure method for selling services, with all users vetted before being uploaded, and payment from commissioning customer to freelancer ensured once all parties are satisfied with the work done.
Up to 90% of TERAWORK commissioning customers to date have been small to medium-sized businesses and entrepreneurs, demonstrating a real need for facilitated hiring of temporary skills among start-ups.
Pull quote: “TERAWORK gives entrepreneurs so much flexibility – you can hire fast, for short periods of time, with confidence in your consultant’s skills, and across borders, giving you access to a competitive market of skills. Freelancers get a secure client they know will pay up, and a way to demonstrate their portfolio and expertise. It’s a game changer for young professionals.”
Innovator: Mariam Eluma
HoBeei is a free-cycle platform where users get a virtual currency in exchange for their used and unwanted items. Using what they’ve earned, they can then bid on other goods listed on HoBeei that they do need. Software engineer Mariam Eluma developed the platform after years of concern about consumerism in Nigeria.
HoBeei users bid for items with a virtual currency called Buzzes, which they get by uploading items of their own, inviting friends to the platform, sharing HoBeei on social media, or by purchasing bundles of Buzzes for cash. Eluma and her team collect all items to be uploaded from users directly, and new purchases are delivered to successful bidders. The team has seen the use of Buzzes incentivising users to bid on items they would not usually be able to afford.
Eluma was disturbed by large trash heaps of pre-owned items that would never be re-used or recycled, all the while new items are bought in stores daily, often on credit. Eluma was one of three siblings raised by a single mother, who was able to provide them each with everything they needed by free-cycling items in her community and family.
HoBeei was designed especially for people who will always need new items, like parents providing for growing children. On the platform, they can upload clothes and toys their kids have outgrown, and use the Buzzes received to replace them with more age appropriate items. Students needing new furniture and stationery can free-cycle them when their studies are over, helping new students access more affordable or even free products when it’s their turn starting out.
HoBeei stock ranges from clothes, toys and furniture to textbooks, cookware and recreational items. More than 1,500 items worth roughly £9,000 have been free-cycled, sold for £2,000 worth of Buzzes, saving the 3,000 users of HoBeei £7,000. During the COVID-19 pandemic, HoBeei users increased as people shopped online and sought ways to cut costs after salary cuts and job losses.
Eluma and her team hope to change the stigma around owning and using second-hand items and break the trend of consumerism that they feel contributes greatly to wastefulness in Nigeria.
Pull quote: “There’s such a stigma to owning second-hand items, but by sharing what we have, more people can get what they need when they need it. HoBeei aims to stimulate resource redistribution, moving items from where they’re in surplus, to where they’re needed..”
Innovator: Virtue Oboro
Innovation: Crib A-Glow
Crib A’glow is a foldable, photo-therapy crib that treats and monitors jaundiced newborns. Virtue Oboro and her husband began work on the idea after their son was severely jaundiced after birth, and have since grown the team to include engineers, designers and paediatricians.
Jaundice occurs in newborns when bilirubin – a natural substance made when red blood cells disintegrate – is abnormally high. It’s extremely common, with more than half of newborns suffering from jaundice to some degree. It can be fatal, and can also cause brain damage, cerebral palsy and hearing loss. Jaundice is not, however, considered a high-risk illness in high-income countries because treatment is fairly straightforward: blue light therapy breaks down the bilirubin in an infant’s blood
However, devices used to treat jaundiced newborns are not designed for under-resourced facilities. They are typically prohibitively expensive, and highly sensitive to electricity fluctuations or outages. As a result, more than 6 million infants worldwide do not receive appropriate treatment, with around 100,000 deaths recorded annually and many more suffering permanent injury
Driven by the co-founders’ personal experience with their son, Oboro and her team worked to fill this gap in appropriate healthcare technology, creating a phototherapy crib that is specifically designed for under-resourced medical facilities that don’t have access to stable electricity supply
Crib A’glow can run on either grid or solar power, uses LED lights and actively monitors the level of bilirubin in the baby’s body. It is completely mobile, and a tenth of the cost of the average phototherapy device used in developed countries. To maximise on energy efficiency, light rays are focused on the baby’s body instead of spreading out over the crib.
Following clinical trials, the crib is already in use in 70 hospitals in Nigeria, with more than 50,000 newborns treated to date.
Pull quote: “Crib A’glow is an appropriate, affordable and effective solution to a simple but life-threatening problem that more than half of African families will face. It has the potential to change millions of lives and has already saved thousands.”
Innovator: Adekoyejo Kuye
Innovation: Coldbox Store
Coldbox Store is a solar-powered, walk-in refrigeration solution and distribution centre for fruit, vegetable and meat produce sold by farmers in rural and under-served communities with poor electricity infrastructure. Adekoyejo Kuye, a Nigerian clean energy specialist, co-created the Coldbox Store to help farmers in Enugu, Nigeria, where their first installation is already in use in a local market.
Sub-Saharan Africa has the lowest food security in the world despite an estimated 60% of its population being farmers. Food waste is a major challenge, with as much as 45% losses recorded, largely due to unreliable cold chains.
In order to run on an entirely off-grid system, Coldbox Store was designed to be extremely efficient. Temperatures are adjustable, digital sensors reduce power consumption rates, insulation prevents energy loss and variable speed compressors adjust to the cooling needs in the room at any given time.
The pilot Coldbox Store takes up to 5,000 kg of farm produce and runs on a 7.7 kW solar installation with a battery storage system. Farmers don’t have to own a Coldbox Store. They can access services on a pay-as-you-store subscription model, making it more affordable to use. The business also offers a distribution service to help farmers access high-value markets in bigger cities.
Kuye and his team believe that improving the cold chain and access to energy will unlock untapped agricultural potential both in Nigeria and across Africa. The team is also building a digital marketplace to help improve efficiency in fresh produce cold-chain supply systems.
Pull quote: “Our goal is to build Africa’s largest network of reliable cold storage infrastructure, backed by a digitised supply chain that improves efficiency at every step.”
Innovator: Oluwatobi Oyinlola
SolarPocha is a solar-powered outdoor workstation where students and professionals can connect to both electricity and the internet and work comfortably outdoors. The idea came out of a creative group challenge, which Oluwatobi Oyinlola later decided to bring it to life in Nigeria. After further development, Oyinlola installed the first unit at his old university for students to use.
The workstation can be installed anywhere, giving people the opportunity to work in a variety of settings without needing to be near grid electricity or internet connections. They are ideal for schools, universities, parks and even restaurants.
In regions where power supply is unreliable and data costs prohibitive, students and professionals are not able to take advantage of the global digital economy. This puts developing regions at a further disadvantage, and students in particular struggle to compete for academic honours, opportunities and knowledge.
The SolarPocha accommodates wheelchair users and has enough room for all eight people with their personal laptops. Oyinlola also developed an online booking system so that users can reserve a spot at the table for as long as they need, promoting more time outdoors and making it easy to use.
Oyinlola’s background in solar pay-as-you-go systems and various Internet of Things (IoT) startups made SolarPocha a natural step. For this endeavour, the serial entrepreneur partnered with a local craftsman in Ibadan to ensure the workstation is built to a high standard.
Maintenance on the system is minimal, and internet bought in bulk, with both funded by the booking fee paid by users.
With more than 200 universities established across Nigeria, Oyinlola’s initial target market presents an opportunity to reach thousands of young minds, providing them with a reliable space to work, collaborate and connect with the world.
Pull quote: “SolarPocha wields IoT and solar technology to solve three problems faced by students and professionals in urban settings: power, internet and space. It drives users outdoors into new environments, and requires little infrastructure or maintenance.”