After 48 hours of hacking and two rounds of judging, the results are in: Team Kangaroo+ took home the grand prize of $789 (2,500,800 UGX). First, second and third runners-up were Safe and Dry, for a reusable undergarment for women with obstetric fistula; MBT, for a menstrual pain relief belt and Team #54, for a hydro-powered infant warmer. The wins officially marked the close of CAMTech Uganda’s 5th annual medtech hackathon.
“What we’re seeing today is the start of the innovation process,” said Kristian Olson, CAMTech director. “We have so many activities to move these innovations forward until they really impact the communities that they’re intended to.”
In addition to the cash prizes, the winning teams will receive six months of acceleration support in CAMTech Uganda’s co-creation lab. Four companies have launched from the lab since its founding in 2014, according to CAMTech Uganda country manager Data Santorino. (It accepts about 6-10 teams per year.)
Perhaps the most well-known project is the Augmented Infant Resuscitator (AIR) device, which received a $2 million grant from Saving Lives at Birth and filed for intellectual property status in the U.S., India and Europe. Other standouts include Sanidrop and ECO Smart Pads (a $10,000 grant winner).
The lab takes pride in the locally-sourced materials used by its companies. “I think it’s really important for innovation activities to happen where it’s needed most,” said Santorino. “This country, as a developing country, has its wealth of challenges and if we are to strategically address these challenges, we need to really imagine ourselves into the challenge, and there is no better way of innovating than innovating where the problem actually exists.”
Many people praised this year’s theme of maternal and neonatal health, including Frank Tumwebaze, Uganda’s minister of ICT and national guidance. “The focus of this year’s hackathon…couldn’t have come at a better time, when the country is advancing efforts to curb neonatal and maternal fatalities,” he said in his official remarks.
Despite the relevant theme, CAMTech hit some bumps along the road as it organized this year’s event. It didn’t secure as much funding as it had in the past. (The prizes this year totaled $2000, compared to last year’s $4700 and the previous two years’ $3000.)
“We really were looking for sponsorship and didn’t get as much sponsorship, so we paid this [the prize money] out of our core budget, sort of putting down some funding where our hearts are,” said Olson. “We took that out of our core CAMTech budget and decided to do that together.”
He expressed confidence in CAMTech’s ability to secure more funding, citing its growth over the past five years. He also noted a strategic shift as the organization seeks to redirect some of the funding to the post-hack acceleration phase, when teams are further along, instead of awarding it on the day of the hackathon.
When the winning teams were announced around 6 pm, the room came to life with claps, cheers and music. Even after the event had ended and the room had mostly cleared out, some teams stayed behind to take photos and celebrate their victory.
Team Kangaroo+ leader Prosper Ahimbisibwe was ecstatic. Kangaroo+ innovated a low-cost neojacket with a thermosensor to monitor a neonate’s temperature. “We are grateful for CAMTech for giving us this opportunity and the floor to expound on our idea,” said the recent graduate from Makerere University School of Medicine. “I feel so excited. This is overwhelming. But what I’m more excited for is when this project reaches the market. I can’t wait for that impact to be felt.”
“I just feel so happy, so overwhelmed,” said Mercy Takuwa, a member of Team Kangaroo+ and student at Mbarara University. “This is the result of a combined effort. We’ve all worked together to achieve this.”
In Santorino’s view, hackathons are not just about problems, but about the opportunities they create, for innovators and end users alike. “The greatest thing hackathons teach people is to know that problems are actually not bad, problems are opportunities for change and for entrepreneurship,” he said. “Problems have potential to transform our lives.”
Amy Pollard is a candidate for the MA in Communication and International Relations at Boston University. Her interest in health care began with her first trip to Tanzania, where she volunteered at a medical dispensary in a rural village and saw firsthand how access to health care impacts patients. She’s excited to learn about health care technology in Boston. She’s originally from Seattle and holds a B.A. in English from Saint Martin’s University. When she’s not writing, she’s probably drinking coffee, making tacos or watching Parks and Rec. Follow her @amyannexu.
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