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Business & Economy

Monday, 03 December 2018 14:39

Two SA Entrepreneurs Selected for Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation

Written by 
Neo Hutiri, Founder of Pelebox Smart Lockers

The Cape Innovation and Technology Initiative and the Royal Academy of Engineering once again work together on the Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation 2018. Two South African companies are amongst the final 16 shortlisted candidates.

Monday 3 December 2018, Cape Town – Pelebox Smart Lockers and the Hybrid Five-Axis Machine Tool are the two South African innovations that are on the shortlist for the Royal Academy for Engineering’s Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation, accelerated by the Cape Innovation and Technology Initiative (CiTi).

CiTi is Africa’s oldest tech incubator, in its 20th year in 2019, and the Royal Academy of Engineering is the United Kingdom’s prestigious national academy for engineering and technology since 1976. Since 2017, the Royal Academy of Engineering has worked with CiTi to support engineering and tech entrepreneurs from across the continent in developing their unique scalable solutions to local challenges. After a highly successful first cohort together, the Royal Academy of Engineering once again selected CiTi as the primary programme incubation partner to support the 16 businesses from the following 6 African countries in 2018/19: Nigeria, Zambia, Kenya, Uganda, Burkina Faso and South Africa.

The programme, designed by CiTi specifically for the Royal Academy of Engineering, uses a remote incubation model, delivering entrepreneurial training, coaching and mentorship over the 7-month programme period; coupled with three residency weeks which include workshops, networking events and local entrepreneurial engagement sessions. The first residency week took place in Cape Town at the Bandwidth Barn in early November, and the following two will take place in London and Kampala. The entrepreneurs also stand a chance to receive £25,000 (R450,000) at the end of the programme, and all will have direct access to both the Academy and CiTi’s vast network of engineers, tech professionals, businesses and industry leaders.

“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.”

On why the Royal Academy of Engineering selected Cape Town-based CiTi as its incubation partner, Meredith Ettridge, Senior Manager for International Development at RAE, states: “Earlier this year we undertook a competitive tender process with a number of strong applications, following careful review we were very pleased to appoint CiTi as the training provider for the 2019 Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation, building on the success of the previous year. We were particularly pleased to award the contract to a training provider based in sub-Saharan Africa, and with such a strong history of support for entrepreneurs nationally and regionally.”

With Cape Town recently being named the leading Tech Hub of Africa, it should come as no surprise that two of the companies hail from SA.

“CiTi has a strong network of trainers and mentors in Cape Town so it was an easy decision to hold the first training session here. Cape Town also has a thriving technology ecosystem which was evident during the myriad of events happening as part of Global Entrepreneurship Week which allowed our shortlist to make excellent new connections,” adds Meredith Ettridge.

The Hybrid Five-Axis Machine Tool is the first of the South African innovations on the shortlist, developed by Dr Lukas du Plessis. Du Plessis’s hybrid machine tool works on five axes to allow users to shape, cut, grind, shear and otherwise form metals and hard materials with more precision.

“There’s so much manufacturing in South Africa that could be greatly improved if small and medium-sized businesses could afford machining tools like this – and my hope is to change that,” states Dr Lukas du Plessis, founder of the Hybrid Five-Axis Machine Tool.

He continues: “What I hope to gain from this experience is twofold: (i) A fundamental understanding of entrepreneurial business so that I can support entrepreneurs in South Africa to establish compact manufacturing firms that are competitive internationally. (ii) I also hope to find a partner who shares my manufacturing vision and passion for machine tools.”

The second South African innovation is the Pelebox Smart Locker system developed by Neo Hutiri.

Pelebox is a smart locker system designed for public healthcare facilities to dispense chronic medicine to regular patients, cutting down on long queues and easing pressure on clinic resources.

Developed by Hutiri and his team for the South African healthcare system, the Pelebox is a simple wall of lockers, controlled by a digital system in the centre. Healthcare workers stock the lockers with chronic prescription refills, log the medicine on the system, and secure each locker. Pelebox then sends patients a one-time PIN, which they simply enter into the system to unlock their medicine.

“The public healthcare system is so often under strain, and Pelebox can take a lot of pressure off clinics who fill repeat prescriptions for regular patients,” comments Neo Hutiri, founder of Pelebox Smart Lockers.

He adds: “To be considered amongst thousands of innovators and entrepreneurs that would have applied for this prize is a testament to the work that we are doing on the ground in leveraging technology to serve people. Our vision is to create and promote inclusive technologies solving challenging issues in health. We feel that we are well positioned to solve the issue of long queues in clinics through technology that is patient-centric and easy to use.”

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