In October 2022 I received an invitation by DAAD Bonn to attend the Falling Walls Science Summit in Berlin from 7-9 November. Delighted I accepted and began to prepare. The three-day-programme included keynotes, discussions and pitches for digital or in person attendance. All topics were related to various scientific fields. Not easy to choose from this exciting offer.
And I was aware that I would not be traveling alone. Since 2018 two Falling Walls Labs provide the opportunity to young entrepreneurs to pitch their ideas every year. The Johannesburg/Pretoria-Lab is organized by the DAAD Information Centre Johannesburg and a jury of academics as well as professionals from industry select a winner. The winner receives an invitation to pitch in Berlin in a global competition of about 80 winners from labs worldwide. All travel expenses are funded by DAAD.
From South Africa four young academics were about to pitch in Berlin 2022 and I was more than happy to support them as good as possible: Tamlyn Sasha Naidu (winner Pretoria Lab), Emma Horn (winner Cape Town Lab), Michelle Mukonyora (runner up Cape Town Lab), and Dr. Amber Abrams (winner Science Engage). In Berlin we met even more entrepreneurs from Southern Africa pitching their projects: Tonico Deodato (Namibia), Maureen Gumbo and Aluwaine Manyonga (Zimbabwe), Stannie Rameliarison (Madagaskar). Very special was to meet Emmie Chiyindiko, winner of the Cape Town Lab 2021. Realizing, what an exciting opportunity the Science Summit provides, she organized a Lab in Zimbabwe in 2022 by herself.
On 7th November we all gathered in the Radialsystem Berlin among hundreds of people waiting for the pitches to begin. 80 nervous entrepreneurs went on stage to present the core information of their ground-breaking ideas in three minutes. It was a firework display of inspiration to break down the walls of our recent knowledge for a better world, like the Berlin Wall that has fallen on 9th November 1989.
In the afternoon we were done, desperately waiting for the jury to announce the winners of the global lab competition:
3rd place – Ayushi Chauhan, winner of the India Lab for Breaking the Wall of Tuberculosis. Ayushi’s project addresses the lack of an accessible tool for proper monitoring of DR-TB cases. She is working on a new generation of portable devices.
2nd place – Emma Horn, winner of the Cape Town Lab for Breaking the Wall of Tile Manufacturing. Emma’s work explores the first bio-tile binder jet 3D printer.
Already thrilled by Emma winning 2nd place I jumped out of my seat when the overall winner was announced:
1st place – Tamlyn Sasha Naidu, winner of the Pretoria Lab for Breaking the Wall of Acid Mine Drainage. Sasha’s project tackles mining-related water pollution and land loss. She uses waste products from the refining and agricultural sectors to treat mining wastewater, resulting in a nutrient-rich sludge which can be used for hydroponic farming.
South African women innovators win big at international Falling Walls Lab was the headline of a UCT article later and it is exactly what happened in Berlin. What an immense pleasure to be there and witness this grand success!
After two further days filled with insightful roundtable discussions and networking, I went home to Johannesburg. Sasha Naidu stayed longer. She had been accepted for the TU9-DAAD Innovation Week, a program funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) as part of the “Research in Germany” initiative. It supports entrepreneurs to set up a business plan and to connect with possible partners. Part of the innovation week is another pitch competition, and Sasha won 2nd place.
Right after her return to Johannesburg I had the chance to meet Sasha for a lunch, before she went to Cape Town to be part of a launch: The Falling Walls Engage Hub South Africa. I’m very much looking forward to the activities of this global community of Science Engagement practitioners and organisations bringing science closer to society.
Author: Dr. Anja Hallacker