By Paul Ndiho
Are you an engineer, an inventor or someone who likes to use your hands to create and build? Well, ask no more. A Kenyan start-up – Gearbox hardware incubation center is looking for you. The state-of-the-art facility dedicated to designing, prototyping and fabrication of industrial and consumer electronics.
Launched last year, Gearbox, a maker space incubators, used its laboratories, combined its resources and talent to help African innovators learn how to move ideas more rapidly from lab to the marketplace is generating a buzz in Nairobi. Gearbox provides a platform for innovative youth to harness their artistic skills in computer technology, 3D printing, industrial art and robotics towards building a more robust and powerful electronics manufacturing sector in Kenya. Dr. Kamau Gachigi is the executive director Gearbox.
“We want to make it possible not only for the large multinationals to succeed in Kenya but for our homegrown innovators to design things that we need here. You know, what we do normally we import generic items. It may or may not fit what our needs because it’s made in China or some of the huge manufacturing centers. But if you manufacture something that is custom-made for our needs likelihood of success in the business is much higher.”
Mr. Gachigi says that Gearbox is maker space where communities of people who like to make physical products, who design everything from electronics gadgets to plastic toys meet and work.
“Gearbox does plastics, electronics, things that NMC doesn’t do, we do composite fiberglass, and so on, therefore, the way forward is real to start getting a lot of small companies get the international best standard. When you think about African or Kenyan products, typically people will think of jua-kali, they will think of something where the finishing is not very good but they kind of just accept it. We want to bring things to a superb finish, world-class performance.”
Speaking at the launch of the new Gearbox LITE facility, Kenya’s Industry, trade and investment cabinet secretary, Adan Mohamed said, the government is keen to promote the spirit of entrepreneurship to provide employment and requisite skills to create an industrial renaissance.
“I am really impressed at what gearbox is doing to make it possible for people to learn, to design, to prototype before they go into production stage and be able to sell their products in the market.
Kenneth Odhiambo an electronics engineer says Gearbox provides a unique space for members to showcase innovative ideas and share skills while also providing a platform for capacity building.
We’re building circuits for Kenyan engineers instead of them exporting their schematics to other countries, and waiting for their boards for several weeks, or even months, we make them here in minutes or hours depending on the complexity of the circuits.”
Kenneth Explaining the process:
“The partner transferred from the computer to the box to the machine – its CNC machine, and the computer numerically controls the machine, and it will follow our path.”
The information communications technology is one of the fastest growing business sectors in Kenya; it’s the regional leader regarding mobile value-added services, most notably Safaricom’s M-Pesa mobile banking service, which has brought about a revolution in access to ﬁnancial services for Kenyan citizens.
Perhaps, even more, interesting is Simon Mauri Kimani, a self-taught engineer, and uniquely talented individual making his mark in the tech community. He’s made several innovations and created cutting edge vehicle tracking systems, that has been installed in hundreds thousands of vehicles in Kenya.
“I have about 500 vehicles using my system. I have my fleet management system. Lately, I am designing a house management system – whereby the system can be able to arm itself automatically. You can be able to see the status on your phone and any intrusion that happens in your house, you can be able to activate any appliances in the house, and that’s what currently I am doing.”
Kenya has the strongest industrial base, and it has been successful in attracting private equity capital. For example, foreign companies are investing in the country and setting up local and regional operations.
Gearbox CEO, Kamau Gachigi, observes that a paid monthly membership fee gives you access to software design tools, as well as rapid prototyping equipment such as 3D printers, 3D scanners, laser cutters, industrial sewing machines and vinyl cutters instead of outsourcing expertise in China. Kenya is successfully attracting private equity capital and international firms are setting up local and regional operations.