Three young innovators were on Sunday crowned as the 2019 best innovators in the annual Innovate4Industry Hackathon in Kigali. The team, which developed a prototype banana ripening machine, was among 37 groups of innovators that participated in the three-day hackathon organised by the National Industrial Research and Development Agency (NIRDA). The competition seeks to help young innovators invent solutions for the challenges that industries face. During the hackathon, the innovators were mentored by experts before they pitched their final projects to a jury that ultimately picked six teams from the lot. The brains behind the winning innovation, a banana ripening machine known as ‘Smart Urwina’, are all students from IPRC-Tumba. The machine uses technology to ripen banana faster than traditional methods, and is more efficient and hygienic. “We chose to develop a banana ripening machine because we know that banana is one of the most grown plants in the country but people still use traditional ways to ripen them before making beer or juice,” said Genevieve Uwamariya, one of the three young innovators, told The New Times shortly after scooping the award. The six best teams that won prizes pose for a group photo. The 20-year-old said that she and her peers – a girl and a boy – had initially worked on the project as part of college work. Little did they know the idea that could win them an award. “We are very excited and surprised at the same time,” she said. “We are happy that our project won and are ready to work with the college and NIRDA to further develop it.” For their effort, the three students won Rwf2 million, while five other teams were each awarded Rwf1 million. Each of the groups will now spend three months with NIRDA’s STEM Lab, a hub of innovators to help them further develop their prototypes. The hackathon, which attracted over 100 young innovators, was organised by the National Industrial Research and Development Agency (NIRDA) in collaboration with the Ministry of Trade and Industries. The five other winners include, Haute Baso, a project that makes clothes out of sugar cane wastes; Reusable Life Water, which recycles water for both domestic, institutional and industrial use; Affinity Engineering, a safe gas systems detector in case of any leakage; Step Forward, a technology that deals with gas leakages, and Umurinzi BGM, a company that developed a bird guarding model for crops. The competition seeks to inspire a generation of industrial innovators to become competitive through technology monitoring, acquisition development, and applied research. Speaking during the awards ceremony, the Minister for Trade and Industry, Soraya Hakuziyaremye, pointed to Rwanda’s journey to achieve self- reliance and sustainable economic development. She said innovation is a key element of the 16 Global Goals, best known by the acronym SDGs, or Sustainable Development Goals. Kampeta Sayinzonga, the Director General at NIRDA, speaks at the closing of the three-day Hackathon on Sunday. The Government, she said, is committed to investing in “building resilient infrastructure, promoting inclusive and sustainable industrialisation and fostering innovation”. The cutting edge technologies like artificial intelligence, big data, robotics, Internet of Things (IoT), and 3D printing are emerging tools Rwanda can leverage to find home-grown innovative solutions for industrial growth, the minister added. “I congratulate the winners and encourage them to seize this opportunity and take their innovations to the next level, with an overall goal to reach large-scale commercialization,” she said. Hakuziyaremye added: “I also congratulate all the participants, since they are part of the 101 nominees from 370 applicants. You all now belong with the NIRDA family and will be considered for other opportunities in the future.” For Kampeta Sayinzoga, NIRDA Director-General, innovators should be able to evolve into a generation of industrial innovators, explaining that this is the objective of the hackathon. She urged the innovators to embrace research that leads to increased industrial production, which would in turn boost local production. “Ideas from the young innovators were fantastic and promising and, as NIRDA, we are committed to working with other partners to ensure that young innovators are groomed and mentored to become business owners,” she said. “Money is important but the three-month incubation programme (with NIRDA) will be even more important,” she said, adding, “you will have an opportunity to take your innovation to the next level by making good use of the STEM Lab.” She also told those that did not win that the future is brighter if they keep working hard.