Hardware Things: Partnerships for hardware development
Happy New Year! Hope you’re doing well.
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First Things First
Last year, we had 10 guests on the monthly Community Chats to talk about their work developing hardware on the continent. Here’s a full list of every guest we had on.
For Abiye Tadeos, who develops smart beehives in Ethiopia, one of his biggest challenges is that hardware iterations take too long. In January 2022, when he was the guest, his company was in a testing phase with two large-scale honey producers who would provide feedback on their concept while reviewing data. Each significant change to their hardware required a new circuit board that was made in China and needed more than a month to get back to them.
Interestingly, that’s the kind of problem that PCB Africa and Gearbox Europlacer are trying to solve in Kenya. Latiff Cherono, the GM of the latter, was our guest in December and gave a virtual tour of their PCB manufacturing facility in Kenya. One of their success stories involve working with GRICD to produce some of their sensors in preparation for expansion into the Kenyan market.
Another great chat was in June with Ahmed Alaa, who manages one of the fabrication labs for Egypt Makes Electronics, the country’s programme for developing electronic hardware expertise. The agency behind the programme admits startups into their labs, covering rent and providing prototyping equipment while pairing the startups with established companies working in the same industry.
Taking a look at my notes from all the chats, I think a pattern emerges. Hardware on the continent might be entering a third phase; the first of which was talent development — where enthusiasts mostly taught themselves —, which was followed by community building — where places like Gearbox and organizations like IOT Network Hub play a role in the locality.
This third phase, I believe, is about forming continent-wide partnerships as a way to find talent whose skills are different from those in your locality or manufacturing centres that have capabilities outside those in your immediate environment. The market for hardware products are also quite small within countries, a point that Nick Allen raised in our Q&A, so these partnerships could also provide opportunities for entrepreneurs to enter new markets. My hope is that Hardware Things provides the platform for these kinds of partnerships to develop.
Things I Enjoyed Reading
Nifemi Marcus Bello won 2022. He received the Hublot Design Prize in October and his stool became a part of the Design Museum’s permanent collection just before that. I particularly enjoyed his interview with Tunde Wey in MOLD, where he describes his research into “anonymously designed” African products like the water carts and portable store shelves seen in Lagos.
For a deeper exploration into Nifemi’s research, visit his website: Africa - A Designer’s Utopia.
A few months ago, I shared a link about BARIDI, solar-powered cooling rooms for livestock markets. Dennis Magono, writing for Sun-Connect, visited their prototype unit in Burma Market, Kenya that by May 2022 had processed over 70,000kg of meat.
As perhaps a sign that the solar power industry is growing on the continent, Lagazel opened a new manufacturing plant to produce its solar lighting kit in Thiès, Senegal. Since inception, Lagazel has been focused on expanding across Francophone West Africa and now sells its products in Togo, Burkina Faso, and Mali.
An Interesting Thing
Reducing the power consumption of an Arduino Pro Mini through simple step-by-step modifications. [Kenya]
Things To Apply For
Global Disability Innovation Hub, ICT Norway, and Norad are organizing an Assistive Technology Venture Accelerator open to African startups developing new technologies to improve the lives of people with disabilities.
Deadline: January 5.
The UNICEF Innovation Fund is receiving applications from startups working on climate solutions with a working prototype for their $100K equity-free seed stage investments. Candidates should have their startup registered in one of UNICEF’s programme countries.
Deadline: January 9.
The Milken-Motsepe Prize in Green Energy is receiving applications from green energy entrepreneurs in Africa. The prize proceeds in three rounds with increasing prize money to produce working prototypes for review with energy and manufacturing experts.
Deadline: Early March
KOKO Networks, a bioethanol fuel manufacturer in Nairobi, is hiring a Hardware QA Engineer.
In Kenya, eSafiri is building charging stations for motorcycles and tricycles, and deploying a network of 3.3KW AC chargers that accepts payment via M-Pesa. Most recently, eSafiri became a member of the Sun Run partnership funded by P4G to provide electric tricycles and a charging network in rural Kenya.
Until next time,
This month’s Community Chat is on Thursday, January 19. Join us!