Hope you’re doing well.
I haven’t done a good job of promoting the monthly Community Chat. Every month on the third Thursday, I invite someone working on hardware on the continent to share their work on the Hardware Things Discord Server. This year alone we’ve had talks ranging from IOT-enabled beekeeping to sensors for tracking wildlife.
I’d like to invite you to join the Discord Server where we hold these talks (and more side conversations). Also, if you’re looking for an environment to share your work and receive thoughtful, relevant feedback from other engineers here’s the right place. Just send me an email and I’ll take it from there!
In case you missed it, here’s last month’s newsletter.
Recently, I was asked for recommendations on setting up a makerspace to run sustainably. I’ve been curious about makerspaces for a while — I almost chose to study it for my doctorate — and have written about it too. Five years ago, I thought $15,000 would be the perfect amount to start one that could be sustainable earning revenue from cohabiting companies, training services, component sales, and tool lending. I also visited New Lab in New York and compared it with now-defunct GE Garage in Lagos in an article for Make. My ideas have changed a little bit since then but running a makerspace or fabrication laboratory in Nigeria is still one of my long-term goals. And here’s how I would probably do it.
Make it thematic. While makerspaces are great places to learn a wide range of skills and build personal projects, I think there are enough places that cater to that. Find a theme that’s relevant to the socio-economic potential of your location and admit people and startups building projects relevant to that theme. While in Nigeria, that could be solar power and solar-powered appliances, in Rwanda, that could be tea flavour enhancement.
Incubate ideas. Following from the previous point, having a host of solutions that are relevant to socio-economic needs being built in your makerspace should make it attractive to great talent coming out of universities and investors looking for great startups to back. This would be a great place for a incubator to be run out of.
If possible, pair it with another service outlet. Many non-engineers are fascinated by 3D printing the first time they see it, but that’s about it. You’ll need a way to make it more applicable to their everyday life. Also, since the people who know how to use the tools in a makerspace are a small percentage of the population, to survive in locations across the continent you’d have to make the tools useful to non-engineers. If you pair a makerspace with a service outlet like coffee shop, for example, people can see your products in operation.
The full interview with Nick Allen of Savant is now online!
Many makerspaces and fab labs were engaged in a lot of design activities as part of efforts to reduce the spread of COVID-19. It’s always interesting to read reports about some of those efforts to understand how they went and what can be done to improve the capacity of these labs for the future. Cambridge Africa released their Rapid Response Blueprint: Lessons learned from the digital fabrication of crisis-critical items in Ethiopia and Malawi report on how makerspaces in both countries fared.
Clara Murray’s story in Raconteur maps greentech startups across the continent and offers a good review of the challenges some of the startups are facing. It’s a great snapshot of some of the interesting tech out there.
In Kenya, Savanna Circuit Technologies is developing a mobile, solar-powered cooling system for dairy products. Two years ago, they won the Cisco Global Problem Solver Challenge and now have products for different liquid volumes as well as a mobile inventory application for service providers.
Until next time,
NB: I designed a small stool called Nọrọ for my vinyl records and books a few years ago, and I’ll be releasing it for order early next year. Here’s the full gist.