Jun 29, 2016 BIH Articles, BIH News

IPA 2016 Inspires Botswana Innovators

By Tigele Mokobi

There were no entries from Botswana when the list of the top ten finalists of the Innovation Prize for Africa (IPA) 2016 was whittled down from a total of 985 applicants who competed in the premier innovation contest on the African continent. The award ceremony for the annual Pan African competition that celebrates African ingenuity was held at the Gaborone International Convention Centre (GICC) on Thursday evening.

The overall winner of IPA 2016 is Dr Valentin Agon from Benin who submitted an anti-malaria drug treatment developed out of natural plant extract. The drug known as Api-Palu is significantly cheaper than available anti-malarial drugs and is popular in Central Africa for its therapeutic and non-toxic effects. Malaria is one of the leading causes of death on the continent and Dr Agon took away US$100,000.00 for his innovation.

Second prize of US$25,000.00 went to Dr. Imogen Wright from South Africa who has developed the innovative Exatype, a software solution that enables healthcare workers to determine HIV positive patients’ responsiveness to ARV drug treatment. Exatype has the potential to contribute towards effectively managing HIV/AIDS in Africa, and also holds promise in helping detect drug resistance for other disease burdens such as Tuberculosis (TB) and malaria.

The Special Prize for Social Impact went to Dr. Eddy Agbo from Nigeria who has developed a rapid non-blood diagnostic medical device that can diagnose malaria in less than 25 minutes. The Urine Test for Malaria (UMT) is simple and affordable, and a potential game changer in managing malaria across Africa which has the highest number of malaria cases worldwide. The Special Prize for Social Impact earned Dr Agbo US$25,000.00

The IPA is a flagship program of the African Innovation Foundation (AIF) which recognizes, rewards and mobilizes African innovators through promotion of home-grown, market-driven solutions addressing intractable challenges in agriculture, health and well-being, manufacturing and service industry, ICT’s and environment, energy and water.

Botswana Innovation Hub and the Government of Botswana through the Ministry of Infrastructure, Science and Technology partnered with the AIF to host the venerated competitions award ceremony in Gaborone. The bid to host the award ceremony here was endorsed by His Excellency the President Lieutenant General Dr Seretse Khama Ian Khama.

Botswana Innovation Hub has been set up by the Government of Botswana as an innovative and networked organisation that promotes technology, entrepreneurship and commercialisation on a purpose built Science and Technology Park in its contribution towards diversifying the economy and transitioning to a knowledge based economy. On the other hand, the Ministry of Infrastructure, Science and Technology is responsible for providing and maintaining building infrastructure, nuclear-safe environment and coordinating research, science and technology.

The transition of an economy from one development stage to another is not an event. It is a long process that is nurtured over time. The move from hunter-gathering to the age of farming and the dawn of the Industrial Revolution 12,000 years later are examples of the seminal transitions in human history, lifestyle and wellbeing. The industrial revolution of the 19th century and the scientific revolution of the 20th century are credited for preparing the conditions for further transformation of civilization to the current digital age of the emerging knowledge-based economy.

The establishment of the Sillicon Valley which now provides a template for the development of Science and Technology Parks and the fairytale transition of the Irish economy to a modern knowledge based economy spans well over 50 years. Established in 2012, Botswana Innovation Hub is still in the infancy of its transition with its Science and Technology Park still under construction. One of the important pre-conditions of the development of a Science and Technology Park is the promotion of cooperation and collaboration between government, industry and academia. International cooperation and collaboration in particular provides cooperating parties with a better vision of global processes and enhances competitiveness.

Notwithstanding its early development stage, Botswana Innovation Hub has already set up a vibrant national system of innovation with strong linkages between government, industry and academia. Further still, Botswana Innovation Hub is a member of the International Association of Science Parks and Areas of Innovation (IASP) and the company’s CEO Alan Boshwaen has recently been elected president of the IASP Africa Division.

IASP is the worldwide network of science parks and areas of innovation that connects professionals managing science, technology and research parks (STPs) and other areas of innovation and provides services that drive growth and effectiveness for its members. The organization strives to enhance the competitiveness of its members and contribute to global economic development through innovation, entrepreneurship, and the transfer of knowledge and technology.

In parallel with the physical infrastructure development, Botswana Innovation Hub has commenced its core business of innovation support through innovation support programmes that include a technology entrepreneurship development programme, First Steps Venture Centre (FSVC), the National Technology Transfer Office, Microsoft Innovation Centre, Clean-Tech Centre and the ICT developer community programme called Cyber City Kgotla among others.

So while the emerging national innovation ecosystem did not yield any ultimate winners at IPA 2016, “Hosting the award ceremony and celebrating African ingenuity in Gaborone afforded Botswana the opportunity to showcase its commitment to putting innovation at the center of its development strategy,” said Minister of Infrastructure, Science and Technology, Honorable Nonofo Molefhi.

Summing up, CEO Alan Boshwaen said all those involved in the advancement of the frontiers of innovation, science and technology are winners and Batswana innovators will benefit from the networks, cooperation, collaborations and business opportunities that have been presented by IPA 2016. The awareness, exposure and confidence to participate in the continental competition will embolden local innovators and strengthen the national innovation ecosystem.