Nigerian Communications Commission sponsored some SME innovators to the ITU World 2017 in Busan, South Korea. The Communicator had a chat with these innovators. Their responses are as follows;
DR. FRANCIS IDACHABA, COVENANT UNIVERSITY
PROECT: RURAL TELEPHONY
The concept was borne out of the need to extend telecommunications services to rural areas. I realised that most operators were not going there thus depriving them of the benefits accruable from communication service. When we looked at the system we realised that most of the operators relied on diesel powered generators and deploying to the rural areas was going to make it difficult for them to break even, so we decided to develop a system that would not require diesel power generators and it is scalable such that it could handle the small number of users and then the operators could still make profit in the long run because it is powered by solar.
Solar is very effective, but if it is undersized it will not last. Solar panels have a very long life span; in some instance they can last for 25 years. What makes the voltage the panel produces to drop is when it gets dirty and it is not cleaned. The other thing is your battery; if your batteries are undersized, they’ll not be able to be fully charged before the next darkness period comes. Several countries are shifting from fossil fuel-based to solar power-based systems.
My project is a system for extending GSM communication services to rural areas, using low powered bi-directional transceiver for which we already have the patent. The next stage for us now is to build and then do field trials. We initially planned to build it in Nigeria but most of the suppliers of these parts and systems will not ship to Nigeria. The seller in the UK told us that they don’t ship to Nigeria. We reached out to some others in South Africa but it was still the same, so we’ll now have to go to China or Taiwan to get the system built.
My University is giving me support because they support innovation. It may not be cash support but then they encourage us to innovate.
One of the things we pride ourselves in at Covenant University is developing students who are solution providers. We give students the opportunity to develop solutions together with mentorship from their faculty and these solutions that they generate are solutions to real life problems, so the training programmes that the school has, one of which is the entrepreneurship development studies which equips the students to be solution providers and with all these coupled together, our students are already generating huge impact in the world outside the University. So there’s hope for this country because of the students we’re producing.
Nicademia is an acronym for Nigerian Academia. We started off as an education company, trying to see how we can use technology to address the educational problems in the country. Based on customers’ feedback we realised that kids prefer the use of animation to teach, so that’s how we ventured into animation.
We’re fortunate to be the first to do this in Nigeria and when we took this to various DSTV channels we saw the market opportunity and they were asking for more content, so we went out there to look for more content but we couldn’t find. There were few African cartoons, so that was how we thought of how we could create a market for African animation to help them export their content so that people all over the world can learn more about Africa.
I studied Computer Science at Nnamdi Azikiwe University and I’m also a certified entrepreneur from the Lagos Business School. I have industry wide experience and worked with 9Mobile for four years.
If you were born in the 80s, you know we all grew up watching cartoons. I actually had a personal experience with cartoons where I watched a particular episode of Superman and I went to my mother’s bedroom took her wrapper jumped from the staircase and I broke my leg. That’s the extent to which I love cartoons.
Animation actually helped me in school because I suffered from dyslexia, I failed through my primary and secondary school and nobody knew I had the sickness, they all felt I was not intelligent so I had to look for what I loved and used it to teach myself and that was how I ventured into animation and I began to understand myself better; that I’m a visual learner. That was how my academic excellence improved and that was how I was able to graduate as the 3rd best in the entire Computer Science Department of my school. This is to tell you how effective animation is in education and other sectors.
I was already deep into animation while in school so after graduation I came to Lagos to get the best talents to make up my team. We are currently on 7 TV stations both local and international including DSTV. We create at least 40 new contents produced every month; this is to ensure that we don’t lack content. We have 10 animators that produce at least 4 cartoons every month. We also create cartoons from other African countries, so you have something new every month. If you visit and you don’t get something new, our information system will capture your search query and before the month runs out we produce the content.
PROJECT: UBENWA (Cry of a Baby)
Ubenwa is a mobile app technology that is able to diagnose birth asphyxia (the inability of a newly born to establish proper respiration after birth) in new born babies, which is responsible for 1.2 million deaths annually amongst babies and according to the World Health Organisation it is one of the three major causes of new born mortality globally and this is a serious problem in developing countries because we do not have the right equipment and they’re expensive.
In low resource setting it’s a problem diagnosing asphyxia. With this mobile app you can diagnose this in 10 seconds; it is cost-effective when compared with the normal machine. The diagnosis is done by just recording the baby’s cry through the app and it tells if the baby has asphyxia or not.
Ubenwa means cry of a child in my local dialect (Igbo). For the solution to be local we decided to pick a name that is local and to promote Nigeria instead of picking a name that is English.
The app is fully developed and it’s functional. But because it’s a health application we have to get licence to go ahead with deployment of the technology in the market. We are currently carrying out clinical trials to further validate the technology and whatever data we get from the trial we can go for a licence from the Ministry of Health.
myQ is a real time platform for inter-city road transporters. It works as an integrated platform to help the transporters to monitor station activities such as vehicle loading, passenger loading, ticket generation and sales, trip management and all other operations within the transport sector.
I decided to go into this because of the hassle most times when you want to travel from city to city or state to state. You have to physically go to these stations to see if there are vehicles available and when you get there even after paying you have to wait, sometimes for hours before the vehicle gets filled and sometimes it does even get filled before your arrival so you have to go to the next station.
The fact that there’s no proper information management system to take care of all these propelled us to come up with this technology. The app is a triplet app where the driver, clerk loading the vehicle and the passenger all have the app.
The passenger will download the app and the driver will use his own app to put his vehicle in a particular line loading to a particular destination, then the passenger will see that there is a particular vehicle loading and the number of people on board already, so he’s able to make reservation and then head to the station to meet the booking clerk who will scan his ticket, collect his money and put him on the vehicle.
When he’s on board, the driver will see that there’s an additional passenger on his vehicle and when the vehicle is full the app will alert him that the vehicle is full so that he can start a trip. After ending the trip all the tickets inside the vehicle will change to spent and this is how you keep monitoring your trip. While all this is happening, the transport company is also tracking all the transactions real time.
Vehicles can be tracked with our system. Once your vehicle is full, before you leave the queue you press a button that says start trip. Once you click on start trip the system will indicate that a driver with a particular number is on trip and you cannot go back to your destination to load again until it is seen that you have ended the trip you started. Once you end the trip it will be registered that you have offloaded the passengers at their destination and you’re about to get to the next destination to load another set of passengers back. So we track the vehicles whether they’re at the station or on the road.
The app is fully developed now and we’re about to do a mock test and to have some pilot companies come in. We’ve been here for two years, trying to talk to passengers, transporters, drivers’ associations, unions etc. to know how implementable it is and if it is something that will solve their problem and it’s been sparking a lot of interest. Hopefully by December 2017 we’ll launch our first pilot company in Lagos.
I am originally an electrical engineer from University of Maiduguri and then I specialised in Computer Information System (software engineering) in the US.
MEDSAF is solving a real social issue across Africa, which is eliminating the use of fake and substandard drugs. Like we all know that a lot of people in Africa and that includes Nigeria are dying from the use of fake medicines, so what we’ve done is to build a technology platform where hospitals and pharmacies are able to buy their medication. We have brought together both foreign, local manufacturers as well as multi nationals. We buy medications from them and then we supply at a good rate to the hospitals and pharmacies.
What this does is to streamline the procurement process and ensure no fake or substandard drugs are coming in. When you’re procuring from a source you’re not really sure of and who their partners are, you can’t really say for sure whether the medicine is genuine or not and in some cases the storage conditions cause the medicine to lose its ability to work or to deteriorate. We’re really trying to eliminate that aspect of rot that is so wide spread and is causing people to lose their loved ones.
The way it currently works is that the manufacturers have mega distributors that they sell to and these mega distributors sell to their own distributors and wholesalers. A lot of people act as representatives of companies in the open drug market but what the hospital and pharmacy owners don’t realise is that these people also have links to companies that are obviously fabricating fake version of these medicines and that is generally dangerous.
We have eliminated the middleman, because what the middleman does is to add two things: inconsistency and higher prices. When you eliminate the middleman you’re able to identify your source. This also helps to reduce time and manpower involved in going to the market or waiting for your supplier to come. We have partnered with tech enabled Logistics Company, so when you place an order on our platform you get your medication within 24-48 hours.
The pharmaceutical industry in general is very capital-intensive but one thing that stands our platform out and not like every other distributor is that we are also collecting data for the manufacturers. The manufacturers are used to people coming to give them money and they take their medicines. We’re not just giving them money, we’re giving them data and the information they need so that when it’s time to create a new drug and expand a new line of medication, they can say this the rate at which we’re selling this and the type of diseases that are coming up in Nigeria.
The rate diseases like diabetes is growing in our country and of course Africa is alarming. We’re no longer concerned with just malaria, tuberculosis etc. Because of the uniqueness of our platform, we have been given a lot of concession by the manufacturers.
Books can talk and pens can teach. That is the innovation from Marvis Academy. Using a magic pen encrypted with sensors, they are able to help pupils learn English, mathematics and other subjects. Chizaram Ucheaga, Head Corporate Strategy and Operations tells the rest of the story.
“We noticed there was high failure rate in exams in Nigeria and we noticed that not much is being done about it. We came up with the idea of the talking books as a learning tool. The Hausa to English book is to tackle the illiteracy in the North because statistics from the Ministry of Education is that over 50 per cent of children finish primary school and they can’t read or write and in the poor communities it is up to 84 per cent; so that’s why we did the Hausa to English so that when the child turns on the pen and taps on the book, it uses Hausa to teach them English.
“In our chain of schools we’re going to provide quality literacy and numeracy lessons for just N2,500 as school fees a month and we’re registering them with the ministries of education in those states, so our plan is to have at least a hundred Marvis Academy in each state. We’re giving high quality learning at very low cost using technology.
“Some books are voluminous up to a hundred pages while some have just few pages. So depending on the nature of the book you can have several. One pen has a memory to take up to a hundred books.
“It is not just to teach languages, we have the one for subjects. We already have English and Mathematics for primary 1-3. The sales response has been very good, we’ve sold to the Nigerian Army, the Airforce and we’ve even gotten funding from the US Embassy, DFID and so we’re currently deploying this to Kaduna, Abuja, Kano, Katsina, Jigawa, Zamfara and we’re expanding to Lagos and other areas.”