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African start-ups score big at Milken-Motsepe agritech challenge

By , Africa editor
Africa , 02 May 2023
Dr. Precious Moloi-Motsepe, co-founder and CEO of the Motsepe Foundation.
Dr. Precious Moloi-Motsepe, co-founder and CEO of the Motsepe Foundation.

African start-ups recently scored big in technology, as they emerged as this year’s winners of the Milken-Motsepe prize in agritech.

The Patrice Motsepe Foundation and the US-based Milken Institute today announced the winners of their flagship agritech competition.

This is the first of a series of multiyear, multimillion-dollar innovation competitions and programmes by the two entities to advance technological progress toward the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

More than 3 300 people from 105 countries across six continents registered for the Milken-Motsepe prize in agritech since its launch in 2021.

Today, the organisations announced this year’s winners, saying besides the monetary rewards, the winning teams received a variety of benefits, including participation in a tuition-free, experiential learning programme offered by Global Innovation Catalyst in collaboration with Stanford Online, where they received mentoring from industry experts, pitch coaching, and feedback sessions.

This year’s prizes were awarded at the Milken Institute Global Conference in Los Angeles, California.

NovFeed, a biotech company based in Tanzania, was awarded the $1 million grand prize for its proprietary technology to upcycle organic waste into nutritious, sustainable, and traceable plant-based protein ingredients and concentrated natural bio fertilizer for the food system.

The $300 000 award for second place was presented to Karpolax, a Uganda-based company, for its nanotechnology solution that helps fruits and vegetables stay fresh longer without losing nutritional value.

The $150 000 award for third place was presented to IRRI-AfricaRice for its biotech innovation to help rice farmers protect their crops from flooding, one of the most damaging effects of climate change.

Individual bonus prizes of $100 000 were also announced. Kuronga, based in South Africa, took the bonus prize for ‘Most creative use of Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies’, for its machine learning and machine vision mobile app, using AI to connect farmers with buyers and making it easier to validate quality of crops.

COOL LION, a Côte d'Ivoire-based start-up that provides cooling-as-a-service solutions for different industries (such as agriculture and fisheries) and powered by renewable energy, took home the ‘People’s choice’ bonus prize for the most transformative idea.

Dr. Precious Moloi-Motsepe, co-founder and CEO of the Motsepe Foundation, says: “Varied solutions were considered during the competition, and this contributes to current and future efforts to understand and resolve challenges facing agriculture.

“Making progress towards the SDGs is crucial. We are truly impressed by the participants’ ideas and thank each of them for their dedication to finding viable and scalable solutions.”

Dr Emily Musil Church, senior director, the Milken Institute Center for Strategic Philanthropy, says: “The winners exemplify the fact that bold, scalable, transformative ideas can come from anywhere.

“Bringing talent to the fore and supporting entrepreneurs is an intentional goal of the competition. It doesn't end there; the expanded network of investors and stakeholders built into the programme offers the winning teams continued opportunities to innovate and thrive." 

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