This week, our next port of call for the AfriLabs hub feature is FabLab Winam Hub in Kenya. We had a chat with Martin Oloo, Founder and CEO of the innovation center.
The goal of the Kenyan-based hub is to empower the locals with skills and knowledge that enable them to become economically stable, giving them the ability to solve local challenges.
FabLab Winam is keen on offering training opportunities to young entrepreneurs and women communities in an effort to help them get their ideas to market.
“Our wealth lies in people and community that is why we invest in empowering our community with knowledge and skills”
FabLab Winam upholds a maker culture of collaboration, creativity and localization in production as it connects with the broader global community.
“We believe that all people regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, race or language are capable of making and innovating given access to the knowledge, tools and support.
We provide makers and innovators of different levels of expertise from beginner to experts with tools, machines, technical and business training that enables them to establish a clear path in their product development journey from ideation to market.”
Martin who is also a social worker himself had taken time out to study how issues like GBV, drug addiction, early marriages stood as damaging factors for young Kenyans while also finding out that on the other hand, the number of jobless graduates was increasing especially in the Western Kenya region, a region that lacked manufacturing industries that can offer jobs.
However, Kenyan markets are flooded with imported products and Martin had a thought of creating a platform that can encourage the maker culture which then would give rise to cottage industries
“I had to get the right knowledge to support my dream and I got admitted at Fab Academy to learn digital fabrication processes before embarking on the journey of establishing this community maker space.”
Stating further, Martin said that FabLab Winam’s mission is to provide rapid prototyping space for nurturing innovation and entrepreneurship, while its vision is to support community empowerment through innovation and local manufacturing.
Innovation and entrepreneurship
On how hubs foster Innovation and entrepreneurship in their local communities, Martin said, FabLab Winam creates an environment for knowledge transfer, provision of tools and other necessary support needed by the innovators to start them off.
“These spaces not only provide that but gives confidence to the newcomers as they see the journeys of others and provision of most needed network for growth.”
While describing the state of innovation and entrepreneurship in Kenya, Martin explained that it is in the upward trend as most young people have realized that the jobs they hoped to get never even existed in the first place.
“This is evident with the rising number of startups, innovation hubs as well as the awareness talks and interests of different stakeholders including government in innovation”
STEM Education in Kenya
According to Martin, Interest in STEM continues to increase generally.
“I have seen many parents registering their children in our STEAM Fabkids program and other programs in different places.”
Also according to Martin, It has also been so evident that there is a high number of innovations that are tech in nature which are solving a number of community challenges and a lot of people think that innovation is just tech.
STEM related clubs should be encouraged in schools as well as including in the curriculum customized STEM lessons approaches which ease learning
As for women’s participation in tech, Martin commented that it is still low but they need to be encouraged more.
“Some incentives should be placed to encourage more participation and those already in tech should not take the back seat but should be in the frontline as role models”
Challenges and milestones
FabLab Winam, unlike other hubs, is a hardware space, therefore it must have a number of tools, equipment and skilled personnel to operate and give guidance to users and according to the founder, the hub has had a lot of challenges of resources to make it happen.
According to the founder, there is also a huge attitude challenge since a community maker space isn’t a very familiar concept.
Some users still come to hang around as volunteers hoping for employment while others are not ready to pay for services (for lack of it or thinks they should be accessed freely).
Illustrating further, Martin said that as the hub supports t prototyping visioning local manufacturing, there is a pressure of manufacturing, however, there is a lack of manufacturing support equipment.
Stating an example, Martin commented that the hub has 2-3D printers but when it showed that it could print some PPEs, the hub got pressure to manufacture but the capacity is too low.
“It also takes too long to get partners to support our programs since most investors/donors would like to work with products at MVP while we support from the idea stage.”
However, Martin stated the following as the hub’s milestones:
- The hub has supported over 15 startups at the prototyping stage and testing, 12 in product development and improvement.
- The hub creates some of its own innovations/products. Created the first Covid response solution in Kenya called mSafari (a contact tracing mobile application with cashless payment).
- The hub has also created foot-operated tap named FUTAP in our effort to support fight corona.
- FabLab Winam is keen on kids program as we believe that shaping the kids attitude towards maker-culture will give rise to graduate industrialists and not job-seekers. We annually host Global Kids Day.
- FabLab Winam is also a founding member of the annual event named Lake Basin Innovation and Investment Week.
Government and AfriLabs’ role
On the role of government in supporting hubs in Kenya, Martin outlined the following:
- Provide necessary services/infrastructure including strong internet or office spaces where necessary
- Subsidize hub-associated costs including taxation (local or imports)
- Review procurement policies related with startups and hubs as well as buying these products to encourage more local innovations
- Provide needed network, authorizations and goodwill easily when need be
- Reducing hurdles and bureaucracies in the authorizing bodies like KEBs, KIPI etc
While on AfriLabs role, Martin stated that Afrilabs is big in expanding networks and pushing members to higher limits.
“AfriLabs also has been supportive to me to attend some of the gatherings which has greatly impacted in our activities and also supported the recently concluded a COVIDaction accelerator for offline manufacturers/innovators of product solutions of Covid-19.”
Martin Oloo is also the Co-founder of mSafari Analytics & LBIIW and also Treasurer of Association of Countrywide Innovation Hubs (ACIH) in Kenya Winam
Featured Image: FabLab Winam team members
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