The GE Garages program was launched by GE in 2012 to spur interest in inventing and manufacturing among Americans. A few years later, the program spread beyond America. GE Lagos Garage, in Lagos, Nigeria, began with three weeks of workshops, and today, it has produced the startup that hopes to be the first major producer of 3D printed parts in the country.
Elephab is led by Anjola Badaru and Damilola Akinniyi. Badaru came up with and refined the idea for the business in GE Lagos Garage’s advanced manufacturing training program, which is also where he 3D printed his first replacement part. The production of replacement parts is the main goal of Elephab; its founders want Nigerians to be able to repair things when they break rather than waiting for new parts or products to be imported from overseas.
“We truly believe the future of manufacturing for products used in Africa is in Africa,” said Badaru. “We can’t keep importing parts from overseas and then wonder why our economy is struggling.”
A common concern for manufacturers in Nigeria is the unreliable power supply, but Akinniyi says that won’t be a problem. Each 3D printer that they use consumes about 100 watts, about as much as a few light bulbs, and little enough that two printers could be powered by one solar panel.
Elephab recently received its first round of funding from US-based early venture capital fund Beta.Ventures.
“When you remove power and access to raw materials as barriers to entry, suddenly manufacturing in Africa looks attractive to investors,” said Ike Eze, Co-founder of Beta.Ventures.
GE Lagos Garage’s advanced manufacturing training program is also where Badaru built his pitch deck and gained access to investors. Ventures like this one are exactly what GE had in mind when it launched the GE Garage program, according to Patricia Obozuwu, Director of Communications and Public Affairs for GE Africa.
“In demonstration of GE’s commitment to skills development on the continent, the GE Garage program was conceived to produce a new wave of African innovators and entrepreneurs, by equipping them with modern technologies and business development skills. It is a springboard for Africans to compete in the fast-evolving work environment of the future,” she said. “We are particularly delighted and proud of the progress made by Anjola in turning his idea into a venture in a short time. His is another of the over forty commendable success stories recorded since the inception of the Lagos Garage in November 2016.”
In addition to making replacement parts for Nigerians, Badaru also intends for Elephab to provide jobs to many people in the area, boosting the economy. He and Akinniyi have invested in some large-scale 3D printers, capable of producing fully functional parts, and are preparing to fully launch the company they have started.
Through startups like this one, 3D printing has the potential to build up weak economic systems, creating new economies around small businesses. Although the GE Lagos Garage has only been around for less than a year, it has generated some brilliant ideas and business plans, demonstrating that there’s a real need for programs like these all over the world.
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