Connecting the Dots at Maker Faire Africa

Maker Faire Africa 2014 wrapped up at the Sci-Bono Discovery Center in Johannesburg, South Africa, last Saturday. Though smaller than previous MFA’s due to a last-minute change of venue, we still saw a great turnout of passionate young makers exhibiting interesting projects. From an entire car made by hand, to a 30-foot tall light sculpture made from LED’s, CNC’ed plywood, and steel, there was no shortage of creativity about. One thing you find at Maker Faire Africa is that both the makers and the audience are almost invariably young – mostly under 30, almost all under 40. Sub-Saharan Africa has the youngest average population in the world, and what we saw at Maker Faire is that they’re better educated, better connected, and more motivated than ever to build cool things in their communities.

We saw 3D printers galore, custom made drones, hovercraft, and even a complete car – built by hand – called “Animal” and wrapped in denim. Netia McCray, from Mbadika, was there, showing her educational kits for teaching kids the basics of electronics. There was a leveling kit for helping low-skilled brick layers achieve picture perfect results.

IMG_7617-2

We shared a booth with BRCK, so naturally, a lot of visitors were keen to learn more about how to turn their innovations into products they can take to market. We brought some of the earliest prototypes of the BRCK with us, so people could see that the BRCK started out looking just like theirs (pretty rough).

BRCK prototype

What many hardware entrepreneurs in Africa are often lacking is the means to go from a rough looking prototype to a finished, marketable product. That takes a level of sophistication in terms of equipment, components, and knowledge that is not easy to come by. Luckily, we met quite a few people who are keen to do the same thing we’re doing at Gearbox and bring the tools, training, and support to turn makers into entrepreneurs and make it accessible to all – to connect the dots.

We met the founders of at least four other makerspaces in South Africa, all of whom were keen to leverage the power of our networks and the maker movement to connect talented young makers with powerful tools and support. It was extremely exciting to see the dedication everyone at the Faire had to helping each other succeed. Maker Faire Africa is an event not to be missed, and no doubt holds at least some of the keys to a bright future for many young Africans.