Posted in: Education, IBM Research-Africa

IBMer supports Africa’s future innovators and entrepreneurs

The finalists from the 2017 Innovate Kenya program are all in secondary schools, or are recent graduates of secondary schools from across the country. The 32 finalists just completed a 1-week innovation bootcamp where they came up with 12 prototypes of solutions to community problems. At the event the students pitched their prototypes to the judges, and an audience of 60-70 guests.

Celebrate good times. The 32 finalists just completed a 1-week innovation bootcamp where they came up with 12 prototypes of solutions to community problems. At the event the students pitched their prototypes to the judges, and an audience of 60-70 guests.

A few weeks ago Lola Aleru, who is based at IBM’s Africa research lab in Nairobi, Kenya, was presented with an incredible opportunity by her colleague and IBM scientist David Moinina Sengeh.

She explains, “David is on the board of directors of the Global Minimum Inc (GMin), a non-profit that encourages young innovators and leaders in Africa to engage with critical thinking skills and hands-on learning programs to tackle challenges affecting their communities. They were hosting an Innovation Showcase event and they needed judges to evaluate STEM projects of 32 finalists (16 girls, 16 boys). I couldn’t have said yes fast enough.”

The finalists from the 2017 Innovate Kenya program are all in secondary schools, or are recent graduates of secondary schools from across the country. The 32 finalists just completed a 1-week innovation bootcamp where they came up with 12 prototypes of solutions to community problems.  At the event the students pitched their prototypes to the judges, and an audience of 60-70 guests.

While Aleru is referred to as a judge, her task wasn’t to rank the projects with a score, but to offer feedback to get the projects launched and scaled.

“The premise is to create a space where the students can collaborate with each other and work as a team. It was our job to find holes in their business plan and/or the technology and then offer ways to plug them,” said Aleru.

“It was incredible to see how much the teams had grown, in terms of their abilities, from the start of the bootcamp to the final presentation. I was most impressed with how they build their teams with various skillsets. The top teams had the best mix of technical experts and communicators along with natural leaders. This is hard for even the most experienced professionals to pull off.”

Several of the projects caught the attention of Aleru, particularly those that used IBM Watson.

For example, one team proposed a type of eyewear which help help visually impaired people. IBM Watson would use visual analytics and speech to text to help the individual cross the road or manage daily choirs.

Another team suggested a mobile phone technology which could help patients find healthcare facilities in Africa based and provide the right contact details for medical staff using IBM as partner.

Perhaps the most far out proposal was a sky pod transfer system to ease traffic congestion and pollution. The ambitious team suggested that would require a 10 year rollout plan.

Aleru adds, “It was inspiring to see that these young people didn’t let anything get in the way of their imagination.”

Aleru will be involved with several additional innovation events with African youth in the coming months including the Little Einsteins. Her advice for future students who will be presenting in front of her, “Make sure you are prepared and having fun, from there the rest will fall into place.”

Follow Aleru @LolaAleru1 and follow Sengeh @dsengeh

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Lola Aleru

“It was inspiring to see that these young people didn’t let anything get in the way of their imagination.”