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Royal Academy of Engineering awards Witsie special medal

- Wits Alumni Relations

Neo Hutiri recognised as top achiever among Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation winners.

To mark 10 years of the Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation, Wits alumnus and entrepreneur Neo Hutiri (MSc Eng 2015) was awarded the Royal Academy of Engineering's special medal.

At a ceremony held in London on 31 January 2024, Hutiri was presented with a special medal by UK Princess Royal Anne Mountbatten-Windsor, who is the Academy’s Royal Fellow. The event celebrated some of the most successful innovators and businesses from the past 10 years from Africa.Neo Hutiri has been awarded the Royal Academy of Engineering's special medal to mark 10 years of the Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation. Photo: The Royal Academy of Engineering

The Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation is Africa’s biggest prize dedicated to engineering innovation and the support of entrepreneurs in maximising their impact.

For the anniversary, the Academy put on a special edition of the annual competition, dedicated to its alumni. It shortlisted 12 innovations from across six countries that have participated in its training programme over the last decade, and after a pitching session during the event, a panel of six judges chose a winner.

Described as an “outstanding alumnus of the Africa Prize”, Hutiri also received £50 000 (about R1,19 million) to further support his business, Technovera. His product, Pelebox Smart Lockers, is designed to improve access to chronic disease medication.

Healthcare workers place prescription refills into the lockers and the Pelebox technology sends a one-time PIN to the patient to open the locker. This solution (an average of 22 seconds per collection) reduces queues in public healthcare facilities. It also helps to track patient compliance.

Hutiri first started thinking about solving the queuing problem when he experienced the long wait at a public clinic for his own TB medication. Pelebox also won the 2016 #HackJozi Challenge.

Hutiri said: “I am honoured to have been recognised by the Royal Academy of Engineering and to have been selected alongside such an accomplished group of innovators. The Prize was instrumental in accelerating Technovera-Pelebox Smart Lockers over the past five years. It has provided a community that has in the past and continues to support and inspire as we move forward. Thanks to this award, we aim to scale-up the work that we’ve done to reach more communities.”

The medal is one of 35 10th anniversary grants, prizes and accelerator programme awards, together worth more than £1-million, being invested in African innovators solving key development challenges on the continent. In June, the usual iteration of the Africa Prize will go ahead, during which four finalists will battle it out for a prize.

In its history, the award has supported almost 150 entrepreneurs across 23 African countries, generating more than 28 000 jobs and benefitting more than 10-million people through the innovative products and services. The alumni have collectively raised over US$39 million in finance, and introduced more than 470 products and services to the market in more than 40 countries across five continents.

The remaining tenth-anniversary funding will be awarded through grants and activities to boost the growth and sustainability of Africa-founded businesses. These initiatives include legal support, digital skills enhancement and global networking opportunities.

The two runners-up were Aisha Raheem, with Farmz2u from Nigeria and Kenya - a business that increases efficiency for market players in the food system through seamless operational systems, and Samuel Njuguna with Chura Limited from Kenya - with a web-based, multinetwork system that allows users to move airtime between their different SIMs regardless of carrier, buy airtime from service providers that can be used on any network, send airtime to family members or employees, or exchange airtime for cash. Both runners-up received £15,000 to further develop their innovations.

The remaining 10th anniversary funding will be awarded through grants and activities to boost the growth and sustainability of African-founded businesses. These initiatives include legal support, digital skills enhancement, and global networking opportunities.

Source: Royal Academy of Engineering