NITDA: The Imperative of Tech Innovation Challenge in Nigeria
By Inyene Ibanga
Tech innovation challenges are being organised to encourage mostly students and youths to develop technological skills for problem-solving, particularly at this point in time when much of the human experience has converged around technology. In fact, students have developed leadership capacities on the basis of their education in the four specific disciplines of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).
With the help of mentors and volunteers, the participants in a typical innovative challenge produce mobile app start-ups that have the potentials to solve problems in their respective communities.
In an effort to showcase the relevant innovative technologies developed by Nigerians within the purview of COVID-19 and similar future pandemics, the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), recently introduced a novel tech innovation challenge.
The scheme was designed to mitigate the health and social impacts of COVID-19 in Nigeria through technology, and to facilitate and enhance processes along the prevention-detection-treatment value chain of the disease. It was also geared towards cushioning the financial and other levels of impact of COVID-19 during and after the pandemic.
Three entries from outstanding start-ups emerged winners of this challenge. The winning start-ups designed and produced solutions to the coronavirus pandemic and its effects on the economy.
These entries include Algorizimi Health, a digital ventilator made from local materials, which is capable of handling situations of rapidly changing lung compliance, and possible collapse in a COVID-19 crisis situation. The Algorizimi Health comes with an intensive care unit (ICU) solar-powered ventilator that is easy to use in remote areas and could be deployed across the nation in a phase-by-phase plan.
The other winning entry is the Tranos Smart Disinfectant Chamber, which is a smart tunnel for disinfecting persons entering a location, as it offers state-of-the-art solutions for screening and disinfection. The solution comes with non-contact hand sanitisers, infrared temperature detectors, with lamps to indicate when high temperatures are detected.
The third winner is myclinic.ng an online, on-demand platform that enables anyone from anywhere to see and talk to a doctor at any time either through a mobile app (for smartphone users) or by dialing a smart number (for non-smart phone users). It thus minimises self-treatment and self-medication by providing quick and easy access to qualified medical practitioners. Importantly, the platform also integrates diagnostics laboratories across Nigeria, which significantly broadens the spectrum of conditions that can be managed via online consultation.
It is interesting to note that the winning products/platform have durable features of originality, marketability, accessibility, sustainability and a technicality bonus.
Speaking on the challenge, the minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr. Isa Ali Ibrahim Pantami said the competition was part of the National Information Technology Development Strategy in an “attempt to implement national digital economy policy for digital Nigeria 2020-2030.”
The minister equally directed agencies under his Ministry to institute ‘research grants’ for Nigerian startups towards the sustained digital transformation of the country. He said the agencies should incubate the proposed solutions, and transfer or deploy these solutions to the relevant government agencies.
Nigeria COVID-19 Innovation Challenge, according to the director general of National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), Kashifu Inuwa, is aimed at identifying and showcasing innovative technology that will help in containing the pandemic, cushioning its effects, creating awareness around measures to prevent its spread, engaging stakeholders in discussion, as well as pointing Nigerians to educative tools to occupy them during the lockdown period.
Even though the cash prizes for the winners range from N500,000 to N1,000, 000, there is need for the promotion of the products/platform for patronage, not only by individuals and groups but by major players in the public and private sectors of the economy.
Checking the profiles of the winners and the products after the awards on the major social media platforms, I realised that they require more visibility through aggressive marketing and promotional campaigns.
In this regard, the government should go beyond providing grants or prizes for winners of such challenges but by facilitating partnerships for them with private sectors actors, to enable patronage of the products, rather than having similar ones imported into the country. The participants and especially the winners, should be empowered to become tech entrepreneurs and innovative problem-solvers on newer levels.
The next challenge should therefore be geared towards identifying other real-world problems and developing workable solutions to them. The scheme needs to encourage participants to build teams and get their institutions or communities involved in their creations.
In partnership with the private sector, the government should also drive the national agenda for digitisation in line with its blueprint for a Digital Nigeria, by designing similar innovation challenges to engage stakeholders, particularly students and young people, to be part of the national solution ecosystem, through skills acquisition and entrepreneurship rganised by the NITDA through its subsidiary, the Office for ICT Innovation and Entrepreneurship (OIIE), the Challenge is part of NITDA’s strategic initiatives to identify and showcase innovative tech solutions that will help in containing the COVID-19 pandemic, cushion its effects, create awareness on measures to prevent the spread and engage stakeholders in discussions around national concerns. The challenge was open to the participation of Nigerians, both at home and in the diaspora.
I encourage NITDA among other agencies to sustain initiatives targeted at identifying innovative ideas from our talented youth, to incubate, create prototype around and develop the ideas into digital solutions that add value to national development.
Inyene Ibanga Writes from Wuye District, Abuja; Email: [email protected]