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Studies detail triumphs, troubles of African innovators creating products for local health needs

s is not assured, they add, due to the looming plateau in demand for LLINs, competition from LLINs from Asia, and the entry of more African LLIN manufacturers. "All suggest the need for continued innovation to stay in business."

Can incubators work in Africa?
Acorn Technologies and the entrepreneur-centric model

Authors Justin Chakma, Hassan Masum and Peter A. Singer define business "incubators" as organizations that support the growth of new and typically technology-based enterprises, and the confluence of human and financial capital.

Although traditionally incubators have been used for economic development, they can also help improve global health by fostering the development and delivery of local innovation in developing countries.

The study describes the success of South Africa's Acorn Technologies in establishing Real World Diagnostics, a biomedical device firm that developed rapid strip tests for local diseases, including schistosomiasis and HIV, and reported $2 million (USD) in revenue in 2009.

Acorn achieved this while operating as a non-profit and with little physical infrastructure. A virtual business model effectively reduced fixed costs and Acorn focused on mentoring entrepreneurship, offering training, and networking.

Key to Acorn's achievement: identify entrepreneurs with technologies offering both health and economic impact, and provide them flexible support from an early stage. Where needed experience did not exist locally, they sought out international networking and mentorship.

"With the right policies and business models, incubators have the potential to generate economic and health benefits for Africa."

Among other recommendations: Pool the resources of African countries with scientific strengths to create regional innovation centers and communities, which bring together science, networks of practice, entrepreneurship, and capital.

Contact: Terry Collins
McLaughlin-Rotman Centre for Global Health

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