Solar-powered fridge among the winners of Ruler of Dubai's $1m innovation prize

The Global Maker Challenge was set up by Mohammed bin Rashid Initiative for Global Prosperity

Badr Al Olama, head of the organising committee for the Global Manufacturing and Industrialisation Summit, which hands out the prize each year, said the coronavirus pandemic has led to greater need for innovative solutions that can help the world's most disadvantaged people. Courtesy: Global Maker Challenge

The African maker of a solar-powered cold storage unit for rural farmers is among four companies to win a $1 million (Dh3.67m) prize set up by the Ruler of Dubai.

The Global Maker Challenge invited businesses around the world to pitch ideas which could benefit the world’s poorest people.

The Mohammed bin Rashid Initiative for Global Prosperity, which runs the challenge, said the finalists were selected from more than 3,400 entries.

Among the winners is ColdHubs, a Nigerian company that provides solar-powered, walk-in cold storage for perishable foods produced by rural farmers in developing countries.

They are particularly effective in areas where farmers’ markets are common. But many of these lack cold storage, meaning food can be wasted.

“Food is precious,” said Nnaemeka Ikegwuonu, the chief executive of ColdHubs. “The cold room can be installed in open markets and I and my team strongly believe with so much advancement in science and technology there is no need for food to spoil.”

The Simbi Foundation, based in Vancouver, produces solar-powered learning classrooms that provide access to digital education in low income areas and refugee camps. It was among the winners this year. 

The other three winners include the Simbi Foundation, a developer of solar-powered learning centres that gives access to digital education; Plastics for Change, an ethical sourcing platform; and Poket, a crowd-sourced registry of offline merchants that can map rural supply chains.

The prize was split into different challenges - solving challenges refugees face when accessing services and how to ensure growing populations can access healthy and sustainable food were only two. The 20 finalists used machine learning, artificial intelligence, smart materials or cloud networks to devise solutions to these problems.

The companies, along with eight runners-up, will now receive financial prizes, mentorship and access to global organisations worth up to $1 million.

Judges included members of Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s “Solve initiative” – a programme that seeks solutions from tech entrepreneurs to address the world’s most pressing problems – alongside 47 other experts.

“The whole world has been shaken by the coronavirus pandemic but the strength of this year’s cohort has given us hope for the future,” said Badr Al Olama, head of the organising committee for the Global Manufacturing and Industrialisation Summit, which hands out the prize each year.

“Our maker community put forward localised solutions for global problems, and ... we can ensure that these inspiring innovations reach those who need it most.

“At the Mohammed bin Rashid Initiative for Global Prosperity, we believe that by demonstrating cohesiveness and having a shared destiny, we can strive towards a brighter future for all.”

The runners-up:

ID2020 – a digital platform that gives displaced people greater ownership of their own healthcare records, educational certificates and professional credentials.

Stixfresh – developed stickers that create a protective layer around fresh food to slow down spoiling, providing economic benefit for small farmers without climate-controlled warehouses.

Agricycle Global – zero-electricity food dryer technology that connects rural farmers to international markets.

AlgiKnit – provides a sustainable fibre for the fashion industry that is biodegradable, comfortable and low-cost.

Nilus – a social enterprise platform that creates a cheap and healthy food digital marketplace for low-income people.

Fantine – blockchain-enabled marketplace that allows coffee farmers to deal directly with roasters and buyers.

Aquacycl – has built a fuel cell capable of generating electricity from wastewater

Aiyin – runs virtual reality learning spaces for facilities without the physical and monetary capacity to build real ones.