The UK’s Royal Academy of Engineering recently announced Charlette N’Guessan as the first woman to win the Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation. The 26-year-old technology entrepreneur, who walked away with £25,000, is also the first winner based in Ghana.
Charlette and her team developed BACE API, which is a software that uses facial recognition and artificial intelligence to verify identities remotely. The software can be integrated into existing apps and systems and is aimed at financial institutions and other industries that rely on identity verification when providing services.
“Participation in the Africa Prize programme has given our business much exposure in great circles and to potential clients, and the workshops have been invaluable in providing insights to strategy. It has allowed me to expand my professional network and, by association, it has given some additional weight and credibility to what I say in my area of expertise,” Charlette shared when she was announced as a finalist.
“We are so delighted to have our first woman to win, Charlette, who came through the Africa Innovation Fellowship, which we run in partnership with WomEng,” said Cordelia Burch, Programme Manager for the Africa Prize at the Academy. “This Fellowship scheme started in 2018 as a way to increase the number of female applicants and shortlisted entrepreneurs in the Prize, and we are already seeing the success of the initiative.”
The three runners up receive £10,000. Two of them, David Tusubira and William Wasswa, are from Uganda. Tusubira invented Remot, a system that manages off-grid power grids by monitoring the condition of the solar arrays. Wasswa, on the other hand, invented PapsAI, a low-cost digital microscope that speeds up cervical cancer screening. The final runner up was Aisha Raheem from Nigeria, who invented a digital platform that help farmers and families prevent food waste and enhance nutrition.
Shortlisted candidates and their inventions
The 2020 shortlisted candidates were based in six countries including, for the first time, Malawi. Additionally, six of the contestants were women.
● Aquaprotein, Jack Oyugi from Kenya – An affordable protein supplement for animal feed, made from invasive water hyacinth.
● CATHEL, Catherine Tasankha Chaima from Malawi – An affordable antibacterial soap made from agricultural waste and other plant-based extracts.
● CIST Ethanol Fuel, Richard Arwa from Kenya – A clean cooking ethanol made from invasive water hyacinth.
● DryMac, Adrian Padt from South Africa – A containerised drying system that uses biomass instead of electricity to dry and preserve various products.
● Eco Mobile Water Purification System, Timothy Kayondo from Uganda – A digital system that turns bones, cassava peelings, coconut shells, and other waste into an activated carbon water filter.
● EcoRide, Bernice Dapaah from Ghana – Bamboo bicycles made by Ghanaian women from sustainable materials and recycled parts.
● Garbage In Value Out (GIVO), Victor Boyle-Komolafe from Nigeria – System that automates and digitises the collection, processing, and sale of recyclable materials.
● GrainMate, Isaac Sesi from Ghana – A simple handheld meter to accurately measure the moisture content of grains to prevent rotting, mould and insect activity, and reduction of quality.
● Lab and Library on Wheels, Josephine Godwyll from Ghana – A mobile, solar-hybrid cart with gadgets and e-learning resources to encourage reading and teach STEAM subjects in under-resourced schools.
● Safi Organics, Samuel Rigu from Kenya – A novel chemical process that turns crop waste into a range of affordable fertilisers.
The Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation and Entrepreneurial Engineering Programme
The Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation is currently entering its 7th year. However, for the past three years, the Royal Academy of Engineering has chosen the Cape Innovation & Technology Initiative (CiTi) to run the entrepreneurship training for the Prize, which recognises ambitious African innovators who are developing scalable engineering solutions to local challenges.
CiTi designed the entrepreneurial engineering programme specifically for the Royal Academy of Engineering. It uses a remote incubation model, delivering entrepreneurial training, coaching, and mentorship over eight months. This is coupled with three residency weeks that include workshops, networking events, and local entrepreneurial engagement sessions. This year the final residency week and event were moved online because of the pandemic.
“We have been so impressed by the resilience of the entrepreneurs in the face of this pandemic, and are grateful to CiTi for their commitment, adaptability and enthusiasm as we moved to a digital programme due to COVID-19.”
“We have found a dynamic synergy with the Royal Academy of Engineering, especially around our shared impact values,” states Ian Merrington, CEO of the Cape Innovation and Technology Initiative (CiTi).“Making a difference and improving lives through technology by accelerating African innovation and African entrepreneurs is an objective shared by both organisations. CiTi has relished the opportunity to design a pan-African incubation programme. We now find ourselves strongly positioned as an African partner to international organisations who want to deliver high-impact support for entrepreneurship on the continent through hybrid models of training and mentorship.”
Throughout the eight-month programme, shortlisted Prize candidates receive a unique support package, which helps them to accelerate their businesses. It includes comprehensive and tailored business training, bespoke mentoring, funding, and access to the Academy’s network of high profile, experienced engineers and business experts.
Judges and mentors of the Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation have provided over 1,970 hours of support to entrepreneurs since the prize was established – this equates to over £985,000 in support.
Alumni of the Prize are projected to impact over three million lives in the next five years and have already created over 1,500 jobs and raised more than $14 million in grants and equity.