Gearbox, one of the premier engineering innovation hubs in Africa, is blazing a trail of innovation in the wake of a constantly changing Kenyan technology landscape.
Being among the companies that are at the forefront of driving innovation, Gearbox is proving to be vibrant in the course of adding value into the 4th industrial revolution.
Located in Nairobi, Kenya, it is a not-for-profit organization that seeks to provide shared working and support for talented inventors and technology entrepreneurs. This includes; provision of design spaces, capacity to develop and prototype ideas, provide Human Centered Development education, and develop value chain linkages which help innovators to build network and scale in bringing their products to market.
The company’s ultimate goal is to house a collection of machines for design and prototyping of all classes of materials, from metals to wood, plastic to electronics and even concrete.
To date, Gearbox has supported the enablement of hundreds of people develop both themselves and their ideas, working across a whole series of innovation applications. In addition, it is supporting the return of skills to local communities to foster the growth of wealth within informal settlement economies.
Uniqueness about the company borders on open door policy, allowing individual engineers, SMEs and even manufacturing firms of all sizes to access machines required for their trade from as little as a dollar a day. Plus, the company also hosts an academy where mastery in the manufacturing industry is taught.
Owing to the unique nature of the hub, Gearbox has not only hosted local leaders but also business innovators from around the world including Facebook Founder Mark Zuckerberg, The French Presidential Council – delegation of President Emmanuel Macron, Prime Minister Teresa May, President of Slovakia His Excellency Andrej Kiska, The Vice Prime Minister and Minister of Development and Digital Agenda of Belgium Alexander De Croo, UK High Commissioner Nick Hailey and most recently, Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair during his visit to Kenya.
Ex-British PM, Mr. Tony Blair, visiting Kenya recently, took the opportunity of spending time at the Gearbox headquarters. In a speech focusing on the opportunities for development in Africa, created by technology access, Mr. Blair, emphasized the complementary need to also motivate access to skills learning, apply relevant information and to increase the capacity in vocational teaching for the young. He further complimented the Kenya government for playing an important role by pushing the Big 4 Agenda as part of meeting this need. He further stated that it is the application of innovation, which is key to positive change.
Commenting, Mr. Blair said; “Gearbox creates a platform to which people can come and get help, and, over time, hopefully Gearbox can expand so what it is provided here (in Nairobi, Kenya), for a limited number of people can be provided on a much larger scale. In the end, it is about scaling up these opportunities like you see here today.
Mr. Blair emphasized that whilst access to information is important, it is the application of technology in a way which solves real problems, that is important and that, especially the young, need a strong degree of guidance on how they apply their ideas on the continent.
Mr. Blair further stated; “It’s about teaching our young people to be creative thinkers, the Internet and technology can give you the information, but the teachers are going to have to becoming guides in order to enable people to think creatively, because when you think creatively, you come up with these types of inventions. That’s when you have the ability to adapt as the world around you changes. The one thing for sure is, these changes are going to accelerate.”
He also added, that it is important that Kenya plays her role on the broader continental scene; “Kenya, within the context of Africa, is known as the center for technological and innovation.”
Kamau Gachigi, Executive Director of Gearbox said he set up the hub to facilitate learning for entrepreneurs and students with an aim to improve efficiency in manufacturing and reduce costs of input. Kamau is a firm believer that physical, manufacturable technology (hardware) can help solve the world’s greatest problems.
He says, “Technology can and should be made by the people who live with the problems. This is a key driver for the existence of Gearbox, and this is one of the reasons I opened this hub. For people to manufacture goods that will solve their everyday issues, they need access to powerful tools and support. Gearbox’s model for building in this emerging market is to provide that support sustainably while casting the widest possible net for local innovation. Kenya has great ideas and incubating those ideas as well as allowing the great minds to grow is important in the achievement of the industrial revolution that we speak about.”
Gearbox has led a number of innovators in the manufacturing field, one that has been adopted by a local vehicle manufacturing company. One of the engineers at Gearbox developed the CNC plasma cutter and wood router currently being used by a General Motors to fabricate locally manufactured parts for Isuzu.
The CNC router and plasma cutter allows the cutting of plate and sheet metal as well as wooden shaped and curved items. The user can save time and reduce costs by making a design on the computer, sending it out to the robot which then cuts out the shape as designed. The user can therefore achieve bigger numbers at a cheaper cost and reduce cost of wares helping them sell a lot more and command bigger market share.
Kamau Gachigi added, “Empowering the manufacturing sector with high value design machines such as the CNC plasma cutter is the best bet to driving Kenya in to the next industrial revolution. Gearbox sees itself as adding value to people by teaching them to add value to things by building things that matter. I have a strong conviction that technology and entrepreneurship are two of the most powerful tools for building global prosperity, and helping local entrepreneurs solve problems close to home is key to that prosperity.”
Three projects that have been piloted at Gearbox include a pay-as-you-go system, solar cell integrated roofing tiles and a sanitary pad vending machine, all of which are actively being used in the Kenyan market today. Gearbox values protecting the environment just as much as it values protecting the culture of the Kenyan people.
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