Software engineer Mary Brenda Akoda ’14 won first place in the 2021 Nigeria Drone Business Competition for her security-driven idea Drone ER (Emergency Response).
The unmanned aerial vehicle will be used in search and rescue missions, specifically as a response to Nigeria’s serious kidnapping problem.
Drones used for these types of rescue missions are often equipped with thermal imaging cameras which can help find missing persons in areas that are difficult to search. This not only makes them more accurate for aiding in finding survivors, but they also provide a cheaper option than sending in rescue helicopters in the first instance and safer than sending in first responders in disaster scenarios.
“I’d had ideas concerning the use of drones in healthcare and security, but I did not have the opportunity to apply them,” says Mary-Brenda.
The competition, organised by Global Air Drone Academy (GADA), included a five-day business boot camp that provided participants access to experienced drone professionals. It teaches budding entrepreneurs how to relate this new technology to real-world practical solutions, how to counter negative public perceptions and the best ways to market a start-up in the 21st century.
“It wasn’t just a competition. First, they teach you the business fundamentals, like thinking through your idea and coming up with a pitch deck,” recalls Mary-Brenda.
She presented her final design and delivered a world-class pitch that out-ranked over 1,000 contestants from all over Africa.
The excitement didn’t end there as Mary-Brenda received news of being awarded a prestigious internship.
“The week I had my interviews for the internship was the same week I entered into this drone competition. I remember my mom was like ‘How are you going to pull this off?’” says Mary-Brenda.
“I was at a disadvantage because I had to ask permission to leave the competition for my interview, but ALA had prepared me for this,” she says.
Mary-Brenda joined ALA in 2014 from Calabar, Nigeria where she excelled in and outside of the classroom. As a student ambassador, she gave speeches on leadership and entrepreneurship, welcoming guests to campus from all over the world. Her passion for research entered her into ALA’s Scientific Research Programme where she inverted two portable and affordable bio-generators to provide cooking gas to rural African communities and thus decrease mortality rates and global warming.
In 2018, she founded Grassroot Solar, a social-impact start-up aimed at providing affordable, steady and clean energy to the grassroots; partnering with long-established factories in Asia to design and produce renewable energy solutions and collaborating with banks and cooperatives in Nigeria. She has since headed a team to distribute these solutions, reaching about 200 homes in rural and semi-urban areas in South and East Nigeria, all while employing a continuous improvement business strategy.
Mary-Brenda has recently been selected as 1 of the 20 Generation Google Scholars throughout the EMEA region for 2021.
The EMEA Generation Google Scholarship is awarded every year to 20 students across Europe, the Middle East, and Africa who “have demonstrated a passion for technology, academic excellence, and have proven themselves as exceptional leaders and role models”.
“I am already very eager to impact, contribute and solve challenging real-world problems on a global scale.”
The ALA community congratulates Mary-Brenda on her inspiring achievements, and we continue to follow her journey with interest as she pursues her computer science studies at the University of London.