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SqwidNet, the licensed Sigfox IoT network operator in South Africa has again challenged South African entrepreneurs to use technology to solve every-day challenges in the next round of their IoT Entrepreneurship Programme (IoT) E. As part of the programme, SqwidNet takes entrepreneurs who have ideas but not necessarily the tools to make their ideas into a reality and guides them on the journey of bringing those ideas to life. In previous iterations of (IoT)E, this has resulted in a mix of powerful, inspirational and relevant IoT-enhanced solutions that are set to achieve great things.

“We know that the Internet of Things (IoT) has the capability of solving a variety of problems facing South Africa and the world,” says Sean Laval, Executive: Solutions and Innovations at SqwidNet. “The key is to identify those challenges and then engage with the right technologies to solve them and this is where SqwidNet works closely with the entrepreneurs as part of the programme to do just that.”

Applications to participate were submitted online and a group of 26 entrepreneurs have been selected to go through the 3-month programme, which kicks off with a 3-day workshop this week. At the end of the programme, finalists will be selected to present to a panel of potential investors.

“South Africa and many other developing countries face various societal issues that range from food production to a lack of access to water, electricity, and connectivity,” says Laval. “Those are the issues we want to tackle head-on, using IoT.” Some of the practical, yet intelligent, offerings that emerged as part of this programme before included smart security, smart gas monitoring, a smart hand sanitiser, and a smart medical kit, all focused on providing relevant solutions to some of South Africa’s most pressing challenges. “In this round we have seen entrepreneurs put forward proposed solutions that tackle vehicle safety, water security, asset tracking and recovery, driver behaviour and fires in informal settlements,” he adds. 

Laval says the University of Johannesburg Gwakwani Project is a classic example of where technology can have an enormous impact on communities. Gwakwani is a deep rural village in the northern Limpopo province in South Africa. Often dubbed ‘The forgotten people’ they had no access to connectivity, running water, electricity. “Something as simple and everyday as buying bread was an issue to them and they were limited to only having access to bread on very special occasions. The community also faced diseases such as malaria and bilharzia as they had to collect water from the nearby river,” he says. The local municipality provided a diesel pump to extract water from a borehole, but this proved too costly for the community to sustain.

The University of Johannesburg in partnership with Schneider Electric partnered to implement the intervention in stages, which included two solar borehole pumps, a solar bakery, a creche, and cold storage container. As the infrastructure and equipment in the village expanded it became more difficult to monitor and maintain.

“As SqwidNet, we drive innovation through IoT,” says Laval. “We installed Sigfox network technology to overcome the connectivity issue. We also wanted to allow for the development of sensors, as it provides a long device battery life cycle, at low device cost, with low connectivity fees, while providing long-range communication. This allowed the community and UJ to monitor the infrastructure assets to ensure that they ran optimally, and that proactive maintenance could be done. They would receive a notification should something break, so that it could be repaired quickly and with minimal impact on the village. Various environmental sensors were also installed, to gather information to assist in the planning of future projects.”

The impact of this project on the community of Gwakwani has been enormous. “Not only do they now have access to electricity, water, and fresh bread daily, they have also improved their economic outlook as they can sell the additional vegetables they grow and bread they bake to nearby communities, thereby earning an income,” Laval concludes. “This showcases the power of technology and how it can overcome huge challenges and that is why we are encouraging entrepreneurs to think outside the box and see what solutions they can up with. They are also not on their own in this quest. SqwidNet will be there every step of the way to help them make their ideas a reality.”