South Africa’s Neo Hutiri wins Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation, gets $31,750

Neo Hutiri, a 31-year-old South African electrical engineer, has won the Royal Academy of Engineering’s 2019 Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation (APEI). Hutiri becomes the first South African to win prize.

Hutiri and his team developed Pelebox, a smart locker system designed to dispense medicine to patients with chronic conditions. Pelebox is used at public healthcare facilities in South Africa, cutting down on long queues and easing pressure on the healthcare system.

(TOP: Africa Prize judges Dr John Lazar, FREng – left – and Mariéme Jamme – right – present South African Neo Hutiri of Pelebox with the Africa Prize winner’s medal).

Pelebox is a simple wall of lockers, controlled by a digital system. Healthcare workers stock the lockers with prescription refills, log the medicine on the system, and secure each locker. Pelebox then sends patients a one-time PIN, which they use to open their locker and access their medicine.

Hutiri wins the first prize of £25,000 (US $31,750). Four finalists from across sub-Saharan Africa delivered presentations at an awards ceremony in Kampala, Uganda, on June 4, 2019, with the Africa Prize judges and a live audience voting for the most promising engineering innovation.

The Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation, founded by the Royal Academy of Engineering in the UK, is Africa’s biggest prize dedicated to engineering innovation. Now in its fifth year, it encourages talented sub-Saharan African engineers, from all disciplines, to develop innovations that address crucial problems in their communities in a new and appropriate way.

Pelebox gives patients access to their medicine within 36 seconds, in contrast to the average 3.5 hours it takes in other healthcare facilities. This is significant in South Africa, which has the world’s biggest antiretroviral therapy programme, with more than 4.7 million patients collecting monthly treatments from public clinics.

Mentoring received through the Africa Prize helped the Pelebox team to change their focus from product development to manufacturing, and to obtain a trade mark for the brand.

“Hutiri is a deserving winner. Pelebox will improve healthcare for everyone using and working in a severely strained public healthcare system,” said Africa Prize judge, John Lazar.

Sixteen shortlisted Africa Prize entrants, from six countries in sub-Saharan Africa, received eight months training and mentoring during which they learned to develop business plans and market their innovations. The group received coaching on communicating effectively, focusing on customers and approaching investors with confidence.

The Africa Prize provides a unique package of support, including funding, comprehensive business training, bespoke mentoring and access to the Royal Academy of Engineering’s network of high profile, experienced engineers and experts.

Launched in 2014, the Prize aims to stimulate, celebrate and reward engineers who have developed innovations that will benefit Africans. It helps turn engineers with innovative ideas into successful entrepreneurs.

The three runners up, who each win £10,000, are:

  • KAOSHI, Chukwunonso Arinze from Nigeria – a mobile app that connects money senders across the globe
  • Smart Havens Africa, Anne Rweyora from Uganda – sustainable smart homes built from appropriate and affordable technologies, designed to make home ownership more accessible to African women
  • Sign-IO, Roy Allela from Kenya – a mobile app with smart gloves that track and translate sign language movements into speech and text in real time

Hutiri commented: “Winning the Africa Prize is a massive achievement for us. We can now ramp up our manufacturing efforts using the prize money. The networks we are part of will also be instrumental for the growth of our business.”

The sixth Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation is now open. Individuals and small teams living and working in sub-Saharan Africa, and who have an engineering innovation, are invited to enter. Potential entrants can find more information here. The deadline for entries is 22 July 2019.

The other 12 candidates on the 2019 Africa Prize shortlist:

  • 3-D-3-P Industrial dryer, Professor Dele Sanni from Nigeria – an industrial food dryer that dries grain for livestock feed faster, and increases the nutritional value of food stocks
  • Baby Delivery Kits, Muzalema Mwanza from Zambia – disposable, affordable and comprehensive equipment that helps midwives deliver babies safely
  • Chanjoplus, Collince Oluoch from Kenya – an online platform that tracks immunisation data, helping health workers ensure all children are vaccinated
  • Elo-Cart, Kenneth Guantai from Kenya – a battery powered system that recoups energy from motion to self-power hand carts, used by traders, farmers and health workers
  • Hybrid Parallel-Serial Machine tool, Dr Lukas du Plessis from South Africa – a hybrid machine tool that increases productivity, but costs less than traditional machine tools to manufacture
  • JuakaliSmart, James Ochuka from Kenya – an online platform that connects ‘Juakali’, or informal artisans, directly to their customers
  • Majik Water, Beth Koigi from Kenya – a technique for harvesting water from the air to provide a new source of affordable, clean drinking water for off-grid communities
  • Smart Brooder, George Kimani from Kenya – the system that takes the guess work out of poultry farming, automating heating according to animals’ ages
  • SolarKoodo, Safiatou Nana from Burkina Faso – a solar irrigation system that uniquely caters for semi-arid areas where precision and efficiency are essential
  • The Vertical Farm, Paul Matovu from Uganda – a ‘farm-in-a-box’ for urban areas, using urban waste to grow high yielding plants
  • WellNewMe, Dr Obi Igbokwe from Nigeria – an algorithmic approach to proactively identifying people at risk of contracting non-communicable diseases
  • Zenafri, Elizabeth Kperrun from Nigeria – an app that teaches toddlers basic language and numeracy skills in their native tongue


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