Hardware startup co-working space Gearbox has appointed Dr. Kamau Gachigi, a lecturer in Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering at the University of Nairobi since 1999 as its Executive Director in a move aimed at bringing world-class design and fabrication tools and knowdlege to empower Kenyan artists, tinkerers, students, professionals, and entrepreneurs.
In a blog post, iHub announced that the materials scientist holds a U.S. patent in a biomedical device and has published 10 scientific papers, 17 papers on technology and innovation, and a book chapter published by the University of Texas. He was also a researcher TDK in Japan and earned his doctorate in Solid State Science from Pennsylvania State University in the US.
As the founder of Fab Lab at the University of Nairobi, a MIT iniative, Dr. Kamau has for five years been at the forefront of empowering youths to build hardware companies. Apart from Fab Lab, Dr. Gachigi was head of the University of Nairobi Science and Technology Park which helped build 15 on the campus. He was also involved in a number of startups and was VP of Operations for Genziko Inc., an engineering and research firm.
In June, Gearbox raised $90,000 from the Lemelson Foundation to help its members prototype and manufacture world-class products that address the needs of underserved Africans. The $90,000 grant was to aid Ushahidi to launch Gearbox and reach a number of critical early milestones, such as incorporating with the IRS, hiring a CEO, and developing a business plan. Gearbox is a consortium of innovative local Kenyan companies including iHub, Ushahidi, BRCK and Sanergy.
Dr. Kamau’s appointment signals one of the milestones being achieved. Based at the iHub, Gearbox aims to fills a critical need for a design and prototyping space in East Africa where there is a growing culture of designers, engineers and entrepreneurs but who lack skills training and access to quality tools and materials. As a result, the best local talent is often forced to design and develop abroad, which increases costs, delays innovation and spurs brain drain.