How much influence can a company have on the narrative of a country? What about a sector? Immense, I could say. There is a lot to back that up.
Sony Corporation’s mission, in addition to helping rebuild post-war Japan, was changing the perception of Japanese products that the rest of the world held.
It is now ranked among the best global brands, holding the most valued Asia brand in 2014 and enviable positions in the USA where Japanese made products had a dismal reputation in the 1950s when Sony was re-branding.
“Gearbox sees itself as leading Kenya’s charge into the 4th Industrial Revolution
-Dr. Kamau Gachigi
Known For Software
Kenya, is well known for its software space, which now holds its own against eternal Kenyan identities of wildlife, sandy beaches and morans. It even has very interesting monikers.
The belief that a company can change the narrative and sector of not only a country, but also a continent, is the backdrop of the Gearbox philosophy; if I may paraphrase some of Sony’s founding ethos, wanting to elevate the nation’s culture through technological and manufacturing activities.
The spirit of the entity lies in making it possible for anyone to manufacture what they want to right here within our borders. Thus, leaving a mark on how Kenya approaches hardware development and manufacturing.
The guy at the helm is Dr. Kamau Gachigi. He has spent a number of his years in Engineering working towards, not only having more engineers, but also having engineers who make stuff. He is a lecturer, researcher and holder of US patents.
Kamau has always worked towards developing an environment that fosters innovation; He established and headed the Fab lab at UoN, where he also was in charge of the University of Nairobi Science and Technology park.
Gearbox is two spaces; Gearbox Lite and Gearbox Industrial. Lite is a prototyping facility specializing in the fabrication of printed circuit boards for electronics. Gearbox Industrial will be a 35 000 sq ft facility that will do the same but cover all types of manufacturing processes, from metal fabrication to plastics and composites.
The photos in this piece were taken at Gearbox Lite.
High Level Hardware Development Precedent
Kenya had a very public, though short lived, dalliance with high level hardware development. The Numerical Machining Complex, whose most high profile association is the Nyayo Car, has some of the best,albeit underutilized machines in the country. It engages in the design and manufacture of industrial and automotive parts.
However, it is not easy for hardware innovators starting out to get access to these equipment for use or experimentation.
(Check out this piece by KBC for a deeper look into the Nyayo Car Project.)
This is partly the challenge that Gearbox seeks to mitigate. Provision of hard to access equipment, skills through training, exposure, finance, investment opportunities and collaboration.
Community Based + Benefits
Being part of the ecosystem will grant SMEs, startups and entrepreneurs access to tools that would typically be beyond their reach, thus removing constraints to developing innovative hardware products in Kenya.
It also comes with support with legal issues, incubation , connecting entrepreneurs with finance, mentorship and investment partners.
Nexus for Players In Hardware Space
Bringing together companies and entrepreneurs working on cool projects through: co-working space/design studios, small individual offices for rent , larger spaces for companies to set up offices and manufacturing facilities, low volume production facilities that can be leased by early stage hardware startups. Offers proximity to equipment, a supportive environment and access to resources like skills and mentorship within the larger Gearbox community.
Contracting Arm + External Projects for Pay
Gearbox also has a contracting arm that handles prototyping services for companies; could either be handled directly by Gearbox staff or be directed to a member of the Gearbox community.
Also handles project management for international companies that have on ground projects without the requisite manpower to handle them.
Gearbox Shack + Special Economic Zone Status
It will include a retail shop, Gearbox Shack, an electronics store with common inputs and a procurement unit that can source and deliver inputs not stocked on the site. If granted special economic zone status, which is likely scenario based on current negotiations with the Kenyan government, Gearbox will benefit from waived import duty and other facilitation. This will see members’ cost of doing business going down. Currently, the experience of bringing hardware things into the country can be a bummer that can dampen many an entrepreneur’s spirit.
Research + Outreach
Among other things,runs research programmes that help improve understanding of local, regional and global innovation systems.
Targeted outreach to informal manufacturers, primary and secondary schools and helping others establish Gearbox like programmes in their communities, partly through developing a replicable model and running programmes to foster knowledge development and sharing such as exchanges and inventor-in-residency and fellowship programmes with other hubs like Greentown hubs
A big part of Gearbox identity is as a learning centre;they are keen on knowledge creation and sharing, and skills development. Currently, they are focusing on cutting edge design and fabrication skills.
Gearbox boasts of a design centre that is equipped with ten high performance PCs that spot a range of CAD/CAM licenses from Autodesk who have also funded the programme.
Beneficial to Artists
The tools and equipment in the space will be ideal for artists as well, especially those looking to improve the finish of their products or improve their production process. A number have been to the space and are exploring ways they can make use of the equipment.