SA named among star players for COVID-19 innovation

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South Africa ranks in the top 40 countries that have produced tech-driven and social innovations to help fight the COVID-19 pandemic.

The rankings are based on the COVID-19 Innovation Report 2021, which aims to provide a global map showcasing the solutions created to face the pandemic.

The report is compiled by global start-up ecosystem map and research centre, StartupBlink, in partnership with the UNAIDS Health Innovation Exchange (HIEx). It is a follow-up of the first edition of the COVID-19 report in 2020 and coronavirus innovation map.

Adapted from the StartupBlink annual Global Startup Ecosystem Rankings, the report uses a simplified approach and a smaller sample to measure innovation specific to the COVID-19 pandemic. The ranking algorithm considers the number and type of innovations in each city and country, with extra points given for outstanding initiatives, identified as the champions.

The two organisations say they identified innovations that can be transformative in responding to COVID-19 and in strengthening the broader health response.

In terms of the coronavirus innovation rankings chart, SA is ranked number 30 out of 40 countries. Additionally, Johannesburg, Cape Town and Pretoria were also ranked on the coronavirus innovation cities list, ranking numbers 36, 97 and 100 respectively.

“The Middle East & Africa has a total of six countries and 10 cities ranking in the top 100,” states the report. “Both Kenya and South Africa represent the region in the top 40.

“Ranked sixth overall, the Israeli capital Tel Aviv is the highest ranking city in the region, joined by another Israeli city, Haifa, ranked fifth in the region.

“Lagos represents Nigeria in the rankings, jumping by 14 places to feature in the top 40 cities overall, at 34. Both Nairobi (second in the region) and Johannesburg (fourth) earn an impressive debut in the rankings, ranking overall at 24th and 36th respectively.”

StartupBlink explains the COVID-19 innovation report is a global directory of more than 1 300 projects. The projects are presented in different categories, such as vaccines, prevention innovations, diagnostics, treatments, grants and lifestyle adaptation.

The data gathered on the map is crowd-sourced and curated by founding partners StartupBlink and UNAIDS HIEx, and enhanced by data provided by various municipalities, governments and economic development corporations around the world.

Furthermore, the rankings celebrate the countries and cities that have gone above and beyond during this crisis, producing inspiring projects to the benefit of their local community and developing solutions that have had an impact around the world, says StartupBlink.

Based on the report’s findings, SA is the second-highest ranking African country, indicating the country has done well to innovate in 2021.

Most especially, Johannesburg has done incredibly well, featuring in the top 50 globally, notes the report.

“South Africa ranks 30th for COVID-19 innovation, and 52nd in the StartupBlink Global Ecosystem Rankings. The country’s strongest categories are life and business adaptation, information, and diagnostics, with a total of 18 mapped innovations.”

Star players

The report identifies three South African start-ups as having come up with notable innovations, mentioning Johannesburg-based start-up Envisionit Deep AI among those.

Envisionit Deep AI describes itself as an innovative medical technology company using artificial intelligence to transform medical imaging diagnosis.

According to the report, the start-up’s solution RADIFY helps to detect 20 major abnormalities on chest x-rays, including COVID-19 pneumonia-related pathologies, and automatically prioritises them for further testing.

It can label 2 000 x-rays per minute, 2 000 times faster than a human being, alleviating strain on doctors and radiologists.

Second on the list of notable innovations is CoronaFighter, which is a chatbot and web-enabled app that assists large organisations to screen and track symptoms of COVID-19 in the workforce through a simple self-monitoring process.

The report highlights that CoronaFighter falls under the life and business adaptation category of COVID-19 innovations.

The third start-up highlighted by the report is Cape Town-based GreenFingers Mobile.

GreenFingers Mobile is a mobile-first software as a service technology platform to manage and finance large groups of smallholder farmers.

The report notes GreenFingers Mobile has repurposed its platform to match aggregated food supply to quantifiable and growing demand.

“They digitally load all households into the system, track food parcels and vouchers, and measure food needs in a community over time. They even aggregate data with organisations working in the same community to produce a complete map.”

The start-up’s innovation falls under the life and business adaptation category of COVID-19 innovations.

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