One of Ghana's active maker spaces is the recently created Kumasi Hive in country's second city. Russell Southwood spoke to co-founder Anna Lowe about its start-ups, the problem of finding angel investors and her desire to create new manufacturing jobs.
Kumasi Hive's co-founder Anna Lowe came out of manufacturing and the supply chain sector:"I was getting medicines across borders in Africa and there were plenty of challenges. I was aware of the Maker Movement and digital manufacturing and got interested in producing things locally."
Kumasi Hive's other co-founder and CEO of the organization George Appiah ran a group of hackers and makers in Ghana's second city, Kumasi that he had started in 2010. As Lowe tells it:"A lot of education in Ghana is very theoretical. There's a need for people to get involved in hands-on projects. I came to Ghana for another social project and was interested in (George's) maker space. I set up a whole lot of meetings and George was one of them."
At that stage, it was a student network of practical projects but they had no real equipment to use. As a result, it was hard to do prototyping:"They had great ideas but no way of turning them into businesses." They were sharing parts and each time something was created it was taken apart and cannibalized to provide the next idea.
So they joined forces to create Kumasi Hive and one of the first things it ran was an incubator programme, which was a general training in both technical and business skills.
The space itself is a large house that has been repurposed to create a maker space and rooms that are used as co-working spaces:"There are now 12 start-ups in our incubator programme and well over 100 people have come for the incubator training programmes."
The start-ups combine maker skills with an entrepreneurial eye for possible opportunities. Dext makes science kits for High School students:"It's addressing a practical education problem and allowing young people to do experiments." Klack 3D is making 3D printers and Pasgid Robotics is making low-cost robotics sets for education institutions.
Although Kumasi Hive has only been going for a year, it has attracted new students to its work. It runs a Saturday Club and 3D design courses for local students:"We do programmes aimed at different sectors, particularly agriculture and run an agriculture hardware hackathon in the north of the country sponsored by a local agricultural company. We've been looking at the rice supply chain and our focus has been to find innovators."
So why set up in Kumasi rather than in Ghana's capital Accra?:"There were a number of reasons. Creativity Group which was founded by George was in Kumasi and it had 6 chapters in different communities. There's also quite an artisan culture in Kumasi. There were already several hubs in Accra and nothing in Kumasi at the time."
Kumasi Hive have expansion plans:"With our existing site, we want to grow our programmes and encourage more successful businesses and also to do more work with young kids in schools. We also hope to open Hives in other places in Ghana. We're looking at Tamale, where we ran the agriculture hackathon and we might also open in Accra in partnership with an existing hub."
So what has been the hardest thing in doing all of this?:"The hardest thing is funding and it's not just for our activities but helping fund the businesses we find. The first proof of concept might cost US$500-2,000. Then the next tranche up takes you into angel territory, somewhere between US$50,000-100,000. There are fewer people who understand hardware in this context. Software just needs a laptop. Hardware needs materials."
So far it's been possible to cover programmes with grant funding but harder to find investment for the start-ups:"There's potential to raise money locally but we've not seen much yet. There's an Angel Investor Club in Accra but not one in Kumasi."
Lowe is passionate about the potential for makers to create manufacturing jobs:"For me, it's one of the main reasons to do this. Hardware innovation will leads to manufacturing locally, which will create jobs. Ghana basically exports raw materials and imports goods. It's got to start to add value. A start-up like Dext is the beginning of that journey. The start-ups might create anything from hundreds to the low thousands of jobs but it's really only in the early stages. Lots more needs to be done."
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