Now that the Cisco Global Problem Solver Challenge 2021 winners have been officially announced, we are excited for you to learn more about each winning team and the story behind each innovation. The Cisco Global Problem Solver Challenge is an annual competition that awards cash prizes to early-stage tech entrepreneurs solving the world’s toughest problems. Now in its fifth year, the competition awarded its largest prize pool ever, $1 million USD, to 20 winning teams from around the world.
GIC Space, through its flagship product — GICMED — provides access to breast- and cervical-cancer care to women in sub-Saharan Africa. Headquartered in Yaoundé, Cameroon, GIC Space strives to ensure access to quality healthcare services through innovative and sustainable med-tech solutions, decreasing the healthcare gap between wealthy and poor communities. GIC Space earned one of our US$50,000 Second Runner-Up prizes. We spoke with founder Dr. Conrad Tankou about the organization’s story, inspiration, and innovative technology.
What problem is your technology solution trying to solve?
Conrad: According to the World Health Organization, more than 400,000 women in sub-Saharan Africa die every year from breast and cervical cancer — the two most common cancers for women in this region — due to a lack of screening and diagnosis services, diagnostic equipment, and qualified medical specialists.
Can you explain how your solution works?
Conrad: GIC Space offers cutting-edge, cost-effective med-tech and telemedicine innovations that enable access to affordable high-quality healthcare for women in impoverished and underserved remote and rural communities.
Our proprietary technologies include a secure telemedicine platform, a smartphone digital-microscopy system, a smart speculum, and a simple biopsy device. These innovations enable rapid remote screening and diagnosis for breast and cervical cancer, with real-time pathology confirmation at the point of care, even for women living in the most remote settings.
With GICMED, medical data following standard guidelines is captured by frontline nurses and sent to medical specialists anywhere in the world for instant review and diagnosis — all within 24 hours instead of several weeks. This means women can be screened for cancers at any time, regardless of their location or socioeconomic status. In addition, GICMED treats early-stage cervical cancerous lesions on site via a mobile treatment unit. GICMED has already been piloted in 23 health areas and impacted more than 10,000 women.
What inspired you to develop this solution?
Conrad: Seven years ago, when I was practicing as a medical doctor in a rural community, I diagnosed one of the women I knew very well with advanced cervical cancer. But what was most shocking was realizing that only a handful of the women living there had ever had the opportunity to be screened for cervical or breast cancer — diseases that can be fatal but also can be manageable when detected early through regular screening. The absence of any effective program to allow women — particularly in rural areas — to be screened and diagnosed because of a scarcity of required specialists — or the absence of equipment — was our motivating factor. Thus, GIC Space was created, bringing together a dedicated, dynamic, and diverse team to design cost-effective, adaptive technologies enabling anytime, anywhere screening for both breast and cervical cancers for all women.
How will winning a prize in the Cisco Global Problem Solver Challenge help you advance your business?
Conrad: The reality of building an Africa-based tech-oriented solution to target a huge societal problem is that you face big challenges at almost every level — from getting the required funding to grow, to finding the right skill sets for the work, to changing people’s preconceptions regarding Africa-born solutions. This prize increases the credibility of our venture, which will certainly facilitate wider adoption of our solutions and change the current mindset. It will also play a key role in upgrading our technologies and better establishing our hardware manufacturing process, which will give us a solid foundation for scaling to more sites.
Do you know what you will use the prize money for specifically?
Conrad: It will be a great boost for us in terms of technology upgrades and hardware manufacturing.
Specifically, the prize will help us move more quickly through our clinical trials and regulatory processes to start scaling our solution. In addition, it will enable us to bring in more talent to strengthen our team.
Why did you decide to start your own social enterprise versus going to work for a company?
Conrad: At the beginning of my career as a medical doctor, I combined social entrepreneurship with medical practice because I understood the power an efficient social venture can have in solving societal challenges. Being a technology enthusiast, I grew to believe that almost all health challenges in Africa could be solved using more cost-effective technologies that are adapted to the African context. It’s obvious to me that developing cost-effective solutions that can scale easily to help many people falls under my vocation as a health professional. That is, with technology, I can impact thousands of people’s health instead of just one person at a time.
What advice do you have for other social entrepreneurs?
Conrad: Nowadays, everyone should groom an entrepreneurial spirit as the driving force in everyday tasks — whether you are a venture founder or an employee — because almost every day you will face a new problem or challenge, and you should be dynamic enough to provide the most appropriate solution. Particularly for start-up founders, you must have a lot of passion for what you are doing and be obsessed about impact — because at every step you will find multiple challenges, and the main thing that will keep you moving forward is your passion for what you are doing and your determination to realize the impact you seek.
Stay tuned for more articles in our blog series, featuring interviews with every Cisco Global Problem Solver Challenge 2021 winning team!