A recent visit to my high school alma mater found me among well-worn classrooms, adjacent to workshops that I have fond memories of. You see, I was inadvertently forced by circumstances to take on a rather unpopular subject, that of metalwork and remember other students in a different set, who frowned on having been allocated electricity, in an environment that embraced the “sciences” and doing triple sciences – Biology, Chemistry and Physics topped up with commerce studies was the perfect blend.
I remember the hum of the machines, measuring, cutting, bending, drilling and slowly seeing what was once only an idea fashioned into a product. The machining tools were aged and the drawings mainly off the drafting board with calipers, protractors, rulers and various grades of the HB pencil at hand, with the experience the software aided part by way of AutoCad well after my final year exams.
Enough with the nostalgia. The reality is that the workshops have since seen a change in use with amendments in the curriculum having seen technical subjects fall of the menu of knowledge aspiration. Also polytechnics that served as the continuing grounds for those keen to enhance their skills have taken on new identities.
Now that I am invested in a hardware play, the dearth of technical skills to build out things is evident. Currently without a good purse to import ready skilled maker talent, progress remains slow on many innovations that require a new generation of builders, empowered by affordable access to tools, materials and production facilities that can be quickly configured to output parts or handle entire assembly.
The opportunity for makers is growing, evidenced by the coalescing of initiatives to unlock it. Village Capital that operates business development programs for early-stage entrepreneurs in agriculture, education, energy, financial inclusion, and health have recently announced the launch of their first hardware accelerator in Africa, in partnership with Gearbox; Kenya’s first open makerspace for design and rapid prototyping. They will take in 12 high-potential invention-based ventures over the next few months. Nest VC that also recently set up shop in Kenya is driving the Infiniti Accelerator, a 12-week programme run by a full-time, dedicated team that will see up to 8 startups from across the globe, selected to go to Hong Kong to accelerate their internet of things businesses.
The makers are back in vogue, owners of capital have realized it and educators should too.