Kenya’s Gearbox to launch hardware incubation programme next month

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Kenyan non-profit Gearbox, a makerspace based at the iHub, will officially launch its hardware incubation programme next month with five companies set to be incubated for up to three years.

Gearbox was launched in August of last year, aimed at creating a unique space for members to showcase innovative ideas and share skills, while also providing a platform for capacity building in line with the integration of hardware skills with the vast software expertise available in Kenya.

The organisation, led by director Dr Kamau Gachigi, wants to nurture a community of members working on projects in computer technology, industrial art, robotics and electronics, in incubating and accelerating innovations.

Though a scaled down version of Gearbox has been running for the last few months, with community meetups being held, the formal incubation programme kicks off next month once the Gearbox space has been completed. Five companies have already been selected, which will be working with Gearbox incubation partners.

“They were selected because we wanted to have people who could be of use to even bigger companies,” Gachigi told Disrupt Africa.

“We’ve done a needs assessment and found the majority of people need printed circuit board (PCB) manufacture.”

Gachigi previously ran the Fab Lab at the University of Nairobi, but was persuaded by iHub, Ushahidi and BRCK co-founder Erik Hersman to join Gearbox once it had obtained funding.

“It became quite evident that a hub hardware space would be quite useful. There is a need for it. It is something that a lot of people have wanted,” he said.

He said though Fab Lab continues to be useful, it does not lend itself to the next step after prototyping, with the aim of Gearbox to get incubatees to the next step where they can scale up, make bigger things and build businesses.

“I was keen to get onto something that can move along faster,” Gachigi said. “That’s where we feel our biggest impact will be.”

Gearbox will operate on a pay-per-month membership model, with community members invited to sign up to use machines.

“The model that we’re having is like a gym, it is a membership model. Most of our users will be in that category and will have to use the machines themselves,” he said.

Members will have access to design software tools, as well as rapid prototyping equipment such as 3D printers, 3D scanners, laser cutters, industrial sewing machines and vinyl cutters. Equipment will be available to engineers, with rapid prototyping and product testing at the core of Gearbox.

The in-house Gearbox Shack electronics store will allow users of the makerspace to purchase hard-to-find electronics and sell their small-scale products.

“Hopefully we’ll be able to convert that into a business. We’d really like to see companies come out of it.”

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Passionate about the vibrant tech startups scene in Africa, Tom can usually be found sniffing out the continent's most exciting new companies and entrepreneurs, funding rounds and any other developments within the growing ecosystem.

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