Success Stories

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The NextGen Africa Bioinnovation Competition

The NextGen Africa Bioinnovation competition is an initiative launched by JR Biotek Foundation to identify and celebrate bioinnovations made to improve lives and systems in Africa. Before coming to Cambridge to participate in our 8-day Molecular Laboratory Training Workshop held in collaboration with Cambridge University’s Department of Plant Sciences, selected candidates for the workshop were encouraged to propose new solution and ideas to specific problems faced in their countries in Africa.

After submitting an initial proposal, five finalists were selected to pitch their innovative ideas to an expert panel of judges from the Cambridge University Judge Business School and the University of Bristol. Each candidate or team was then assigned to a business expert that they worked with (remotely) to further refine their proposals in preparation for the pitching competition held during our inaugural African Diaspora Biotech Summit.

Maryam, Macsamuel, Jacob and Ruth; PhD students from Nigeria, Ghana and Kenya who were sponsored by the Global Challenge Research Fund (GCRF) to attend the workshop and Summit in Cambridge, proposed interesting solutions that can help millions of people living in Africa. Maryam and Macsamuel met and formed a team in Cambridge and they collaboratively came up with the idea of producing, packaging and selling chemical-free cowpea to retailers and cowpea consumers in Nigeria. This product can help reduce the risk of death and health issues associated with the consumption of chemically preserved cowpea in Nigeria.

Similarly, Jacob and Ruth formed a team whilst in Africa. They proposed the production of environmentally-friendly biofertilizers using local strains of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungal spores. Their product called “Biofertilizer for Africa” will be produced in collaboration with their universities in Ghana and Kenya, packaged and sold directly to small-holder farmers in those regions. This product has the potential to help improve crop yield of small holder farmers in rural areas.

Likewise, Dr. Zayed from Egypt proposed the idea of using sprouts as a dual product for both human and animal (feeder stock) consumption in Egypt. This dual sprout product can contribute to improved food security in Egypt.

Finally, Ms. Bolaji Thanni who was also a recipient of the GCR funding participated in the pitching competition. She pitched her newly formed non-profit organization’s products and services. The non-profit organization called Advocate for Clean Climate and Environment (ACCE Nigeria) aims to provide sustainable strategies and solutions to looming climatic issues affecting rural and marginalized populations in Nigeria. Their strategy is to lead the fight against climate change by raising awareness on the detrimental effects of current human activities (energy sourcing, agriculture, lighting, mining, transportation, etc.) on the climate and the environment in Nigeria.

During the NextGen Africa Bioinnovation competition at the African Diaspora Biotech Summit, Bolaji won the “Most Promising Innovation Award” for her excellent presentation style and the potential impact her organization’s products and services may have in rural communities in Nigeria.

These are very inspiring stories and we (JR Biotek Foundation) are most delighted to provide a unique global platform that allowed these brilliant and very talented African scientists and students to think outside the box, collaborate with others and propose solutions to very pressing problems affecting millions of people on the African continent. We are excited to launch the Bioinnovation for Africa Pitching workshop in collaboration with the Judge Business School, Cambridge University (in 2018/19) and this programme will allow us to reach, mentor and support more Africa-based bioscientists to start exploring ways to create new solutions that address specific problems in Africa.

Success Story Continues

We are very excited to recruit three of our alumni, Macsamuel Ugbaa, Jacob Ulzen and Ruth Wilhem-Mukhongo to serve as our Country Coordinators in Nigeria, Ghana and Kenya/Uganda, respectively (Our Team).

Ruth and Jacob attended our first Molecular Laboratory Training Program at the International Institute of Agriculture (IITA), Nigeria in September 2014. Their outstanding achievements, passion and dedication to help improve bioscience education, training and capacity building in their countries led us to award them a full scholarship to gain further training in molecular biology at Cambridge University. Both candidates and Macsamuel have strong intellectual and interpersonal ability and a capacity for leadership. As Country Coordinators, they will help with planning and logistics as well as with training other students and scientists in different regions in Africa. We are so pleased to have them join our team.

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I am of the sincere opinion that the JR Biotek Foundation-Cambridge training is a package which is highly expository, educative, interesting and stimulating. It has broadened my vision and developed my mind. The training was very useful and comprehensive and has generally improved my understanding and knowledge of molecular techniques.

It has also helped me bridge the gap between theoretical and practical knowledge of basic molecular techniques. I can comfortably apply what I have learnt in my research and other areas of plant breeding. The training also gave me an opportunity to meet and network with established researchers in the UK and young scientists from different regions of Africa.

Macsamuel Ugbaa, PhD student in Plant Breeding, Nigeria

I felt honored to be one of the training participants. I was able to lay my hands on world class biotechnology techniques that I had been hearing and dreaming about. I also had the opportunity to meet with great scientists which is of huge benefit to my career.
The cry of African women was also heard with solutions from experts. The workshop was a solution oriented one. Thank you JR Biotek Foundation for the opportunity offered. I wish to cross your path again.

Maryam Abba Dawud, PhD student at WACCI (University of Ghana) and Research Officer at the Lake Chad Research Institute, Nigeria

I appreciate the passion of the initiator towards ensuring development of scientific research in Africa, and offering platforms for possible future collaboration with a high ranking University like Cambridge.

Dr. Kabir Mustapha, Deputy Director at Bayero University, Nigeria

Thank you for the brilliant workshop that we attended at the Department of Plant Sciences, Cambridge University. It was very informative, well-presented and enjoyable. I learned so much from this workshop that will assist me in my workplace. Introducing a lecture on leadership was very wonderful, and the NextGen Africa Bioinnovation pitching competition was a very good idea to exchange different ideas amongst the trainees.

Dr. Mona Zayed, Assistant Professor in Soil Microbiology, Egypt

I wish to express my sincere gratitude for the contribution made by all of you making this training one of the best I have ever had. Thank you so much for your gracious hospitality and all of your assistance with the training. Your advices as mentors were valuable for me.

No Name, Workshop trainee from Nigeria

Participating in the Molecular Laboratory Training Workshop organized by JR Biotek Foundation in the Department of Plant Sciences at the University Cambridge exposed me to modern molecular techniques that greatly improve research output. The opportunity helped me to also appreciate modern but simple procedures such as different DNA extraction methods that can be used in developing countries where resources are scarce.

It reminded me that research requires a passion and patience to pursue an objective that may take long to be achieved. Being trained for the second time under the initiative of JR Biotek Foundation, the training provided me with the social skills and confidence to put myself out there to contribute to the development of the society. I was motivated to take part in similar trainings to transmit the acquired skills and knowledge to my colleagues and other students.
At the African Diaspora Biotech Summit I learnt that an idea can be as small as a mustard seed but can gradually grow into a fruitful tree. Many conceived ideas have turned into very impactful projects due to developed interest, persistence and resilience. I am hopeful that the bioinnovation idea ‘Biofertilizers for Africa’ presented by Jacob Ulzen and I will grow to greater heights.

Generally, I was challenged to put myself out there and interact with people to form connections that may be useful, following the example set by Ms. Carol Ibe, Founder of JR Biotek Foundation and Dr. Amara Anyogu, Editor and Co-Founder of Thank you BBRSC for the scholarship!

Ruth Wilhem Mukhongo, PhD student at Makerere University, Uganda

The molecular training workshop and the summit was a world class programme, well organized and well executed. Although, I had knowledge in biotechnology, the workshop was an eye opener with regards to emerging methods and tools in modern molecular technology. The practical session was phenomenal. It allowed the participants to conduct hands-on lab experiments with supervision from instructors. I must confess that it is now easier for me to interpret molecular results from published articles.

Since arriving in Ghana, I have introduced some of the new and affordable methods of DNA extraction which I learnt in Cambridge to the biotechnology laboratory in my department at Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Ghana. I am looking forward to sharing the knowledge that I acquired from the workshop with friends and colleagues who need help in these areas.

Far more exciting was the opportunity to meet top scientists from different backgrounds during the workshop. Learning from them was a priceless experience for a young scientist like myself, and I wouldn’t trade that for anything.

Apart from gaining practical experience, I also learnt new and better ways of communicating scientific information using pictures and videos. I participated in the NextGen Africa Bioinnovation pitching competition where I had the opportunity to pitch my innovative idea before a panel of judges and a big audience at the African Diaspora Biotech Summit. The experience was magnificent. It helped build my confidence and that of the other participants, especially as it was the first time I had done something of that sort. I encourage the organizers to keep it up.

Finally, the leadership workshop gave me a new insight on how to manage things and how to deal with colleagues. Overall, the time I spent in Cambridge’s Department of Plant Sciences was worth it in terms of my academics and social life. I am particularly grateful to the organizers for giving me the opportunity to be part of such academic exercise and to all our knowledgeable and insightful facilitators and speakers for sharing their experience.

Jacob Ulzen, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Ghana