Notable innovations from Africans in 2023

by MMC
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Africans innovate – a lot. To a large extent, this is because their environments are dysfunctional enough to stimulate improvisation. When improvisation becomes culture, innovative outliers often emerge. These outliers, like The boy who tamed the winddefinitely move the needle in their communities and, in some cases, the world.

The world seems so busy with the AI ​​hype train. This is great, but it could cause us to miss out on the many innovations around us. In 2023, Africa has hosted some of the most remarkable and inspiring innovations in various fields, from health to energy to artificial intelligence. Some of them have been recognized, while others are still underestimated. Here are seven African innovations that excite us this year.

FlexiGyn (South Africa)

FlexiGyn is a handheld device that allows gynecologists to examine and treat the uterus without anesthesia. Edmund Wessels, co-founder of Vas MedTech, built the device to work even in remote areas without health infrastructure. Wessels is a biomedical engineer and doctoral student at the University of Cape Town.

He created FlexiGyn to address women’s reproductive health issues in places where they are still using old, ineffective devices that cause discomfort. Anesthesia is rarely used for hysteroscopies in Africa.

Most hysteroscopy systems used to inspect the uterus are rigid, causing a lot of discomfort to patients. They also need large additional equipment for viewing. Wessels solved this problem by integrating these big equipment features into a small, flexible device. This way, the procedure is more convenient for both the examiner and the patient. FlexiGyn is battery powered and can be used with one hand.

In addition, current devices must be sterilized after each use or be equipped with single-use scopes. But FlexiGyn has a disposable sheath for the reusable device to avoid sterilization and increase effectiveness. The sheath has channels that allow the connection and flow of saline to dilate the uterus.

WAGA Power Pack is a portable device that uses recycled laptop batteries to power e-bikes, power banks, solar lights, businesses and homes. It is the brainchild of Gibson Kawago, a Tanzanian electrical engineer.

He created the WAGA Power Pack due to the unstable electricity situation in Tanzania. To make the device, he recycles batteries from informal waste collectors in five regions of Tanzania. First, it charges them and tests them after two to four weeks to see if they still have a charge that meets the manufacturer’s standards. Low voltage or corroded batteries are sent for electrochemical recycling.

Then it uses nickel strips to bond the battery cells and connect them to a battery management system with sensors that track performance and changes in temperature, current and voltage. Once coupled, the WAGA Power Pack consists of lithium-ion batteries with an output of 12, 24 and 48 volts, depending on the application, such as lighting, heating and household appliances.

IFIOK (Nigeria)

“Good things come in small packages,” they say. And Uyai Bassey, a young Nigerian inventor, seems to have taken this statement personally. She created IFIOK, a futuristic low-cost smartphone.

IFIOK (Ibibio word for “Wisdom”) does not have a screen. Instead, it uses a holographic display. Rather than swiping and clicking, users will interact with a voice-controlled AI assistant.

The smartphone can also detect people’s locations using their phone’s IMEI (International Mobile Equipment Identity) numbers. There is also a built-in lie detector.

Perhaps the most interesting part of IFIOK is its price. Uyai Bassey sells each unit at N3,500 ($2.86). This represents less than 12% of the Nigerian minimum wage.

Kumulus (Morocco)

This startup produces water from scratch (literally). So even if you live in the driest deserts, Kumulus can help you access clean drinking water. The Moroccan startup, founded by former Airbus engineer Abderrahmane Ait Ali, produces drinking water from the air using solar energy and patented technology.

The Kumulus, which resembles an amphora, weighs 60 kilos, is easy to transport in a pick-up and easy to install. It produces 20 to 30 liters of fresh, drinkable and mineralized water every day. It can be connected to a power grid or to solar panels.

The startup aims to provide a sustainable and affordable solution to isolated communities without clean water sources. It sells its machines to local partners, such as NGOs, cooperatives or municipalities, who then distribute the water to end users at low cost. It also offers a pay-as-you-go model, where users can pay for water using their mobile phones. The startup claims its water is cheaper and cleaner than bottled water. The company also claims that its machines have a low environmental impact because they use renewable energy and generate no waste.

Kumulus has won several awards since its creation, including the first Vivatech prizes for startups in the water sector. The startup also raised about $1 million and expanded to include more IT developers, mechanical engineers and operations managers.

Kubik (Ethiopia and Kenya)

Kubik transforms recycled plastic waste into interlocking building materials, including bricks, beams and columns. But before you say “It’s not new, I’ve seen it before”, here’s the difference: it’s (actually) affordable. Most people who transform plastic into building materials do not realize such an evolution in any significant way. Many operate as nonprofit organizations relying on donor grants, while others focus on exporting to Western markets. For what? Their final products prove too expensive for African consumers.

However, Kidus Asfaw and Penda Marre, the founders of Kubik, have built an innovative business model that allows it to sell at scale. This way, it can tackle the two elephants in the room: Africa’s housing deficit and waste problems. In Ethiopia, where it recently started operations, there is a housing deficit of approximately 1.2 million units, requiring 381,000 new units per year. On the other hand, only 165,000 units are produced each year.

A classroom built with recycled plastics

Kubik makes the company profitable by maintaining a Lean model. First, they do not collect waste directly. Rather, it is about encouraging collectors to sell them their plastic waste. They also focus on plastics which are not in high demand by other recyclers. Then, it sells its finished products mainly to real estate developers. Kubik therefore sells these construction materials at a price 40% lower than that of traditional cement bricks. Today, it removes 45,000 kg of plastic waste from landfills every day. The startup has won several awards, including the Global Startup Awards in April. In June, the company raised $3.34 million in start-up financing.

Medbox (Ghana)

We often talk about how telemedecine is vital to saving healthcare in Africa. There are not enough hospitals to meet the needs of residents (we have ~1 hospital bed per 100,000 people). However, one (obvious) limitation often jumps out at us: many diagnoses cannot be made by telephone. That’s why Emmanuel Ofori Devi created MEDBOX, a healthcare monitoring system that records a patient’s vital signs and immediately transmits them to healthcare professionals.

Devi aims for MEDBOX to save people with chronic illnesses from having to spend time and money traveling to receive medical care or pick up their pharmaceuticals by using the device from the comfort of their home.

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