Pioneers of Innovation: Four Stratizens Triumph in Efficiency for Access Design Challenge


Picture this: in rural areas at the crack of dawn, women carefully lay out their cereals under the rising sun, hoping for a dry day. Yet, as clouds gather or the day wanes, they swiftly gather their harvest back into heavy sacks, their backs straining under the weight. This relentless cycle repeats day after day.

Inspired by numerous visits to the western parts of Kenya, Kakamega, Bunyala and Busia in particular, Ian Onyango, a third-year Bachelor of Science Informatics and Computer Science student, was struck with an idea to alleviate this burden. Combined with the knowledge equipped in class, he wondered how technology can ease their daily toil?

Marshaling his colleagues, Ruman Hassan and Ronit Mepani, (his classmates also pursuing ICS), Lekatoo (electrical engineering) and Isaiah Ochieng (#ClassOf2023 BBS FE Alumni), came up with a solar-powered smart cereal dryer that scooped the Silver Award at the Efficiency for Access Design Challenge 2023/2024. 

Here’s how it works:

The design is a solar-powered cereal drying system that uses direct current (DC) electricity from solar panels. The system utilizes solar panels to harness renewable energy, with each drying device equipped with humidity sensors to monitor and regulate the internal conditions of the drying chamber. These sensors continuously measure the humidity levels and automatically deactivate the dryers once the desired moisture content is achieved, preventing over-drying and ensuring optimal grain quality.

By harnessing solar energy, this eco-friendly approach significantly improves cereal drying processes, enhancing food safety by reducing the risk of aflatoxin contamination. It also offers economic benefits by decreasing post-harvest losses and increasing marketable crop yields. Crucially, this system reduces the labor-intensive burden traditionally placed on women and girls, promoting gender equality by facilitating a more equitable distribution of agricultural responsibilities. This not only frees up time for educational and economic pursuits but also supports a more sustainable and productive agricultural sector. Aligned with Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 1 (No Poverty), 7 (Affordable and Clean Energy), and 8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth), the system supports financial growth for farmers through the adoption of sustainable agricultural practice

As we congratulate them on this achievement, let’s rewind to where it all began.

Last year, Ian, Isaiah Ochieng (#ClassOf2023 BBS FE Alumni), and Martha Njoroge (BCOM student) participated in the 2023 Strathmore University Ideas Festival with their innovative idea named “ReVessel”. Their #ServiceToSociety initiative propelled them to the semifinals under the mentorship of Mr. Joseph Oboo, a respected figure at SCES school. Their concept aimed to empower businesses in adopting a circular economy model, integrating sustainable practices across all facets of their operations. Direct-to-customer businesses often struggle with managing waste and minimizing environmental impact. Traditional linear business models generate excessive packaging waste and contribute to resource depletion, which can deter eco-conscious consumers and impede long-term growth. Without effective solutions, businesses face challenges such as resource inefficiency, increased costs, and missed opportunities to align with sustainable values.

Following this milestone, during a one-on-one session with Mr. Oboo, he planted a seed in Job’s mind to explore new horizons. He underscored the significance of the Efficiency for Access Design Challenge, a platform for university students that strives to cultivate innovation in the realm of off-grid appliances. This competition not only fosters collaboration and creativity among students but also confronts barriers hindering market expansion in this specialized sector. Encouraged by Mr. Oboo’s wisdom and support, Job swiftly mobilized. At home with his roommate, Isaiah Ochieng’, a #ClassOf2023 BBS Financial Engineering Alumni, they engaged in deep discussions, seeking feedback and refining his ideas. 

With Mr. Oboo’s words of advice to expand the team and diversify expertise, Job scanned through his circle and got a few likeminded colleagues that supported his idea. Isaiah took charge of financial strategies as the “master of coins”. Joining them were classmates Ruman Hassan and Ronit Mepani, driven by their shared passion for societal impact through #ServiceToSociety initiatives. Adding essential technical prowess, Lekatoo, an adept Electrical Engineering student, came on board to oversee the electrical aspects of their project. 

With all pieces in place, the team received the green light to commence their project.

Impressive right?

With their innovative idea in hand, the team enthusiastically took on the challenge, hoping for recognition and perhaps funding to expand and scale their project. Over the span of two months, from January to February 2024, they participated in intensive online sessions under the guidance of mentor, Mr. Morgan da Silva, at the Efficieny Challenge. These sessions covered entrepreneurship, project design, creating concept notes, exploring career paths, and developing leadership skills, among many others with the aim to empower students from diverse global backgrounds.

Despite their demanding schedules juggling work-based and service-based learning, they diligently set aside an hour or so each day to advance their project. “It required significant sacrifice throughout the entire program,” reflects the team. On certain days, they ventured into the western community to personally engage with locals, showcasing the profound impact of their project. Through these interactions, they imparted knowledge on the project’s affordable and innovative approaches to capacity-building.

Every year, a new wave of students joins us, eager to #GoPlacesWithSU and become the change agents the world needs. Our students embody hope for the future. Congratulations to these students for their impressive project! #KeepWinning!


Article written by: Jemmy Kamau

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