In the middle of the pandemic and challenges that came with it, Fab Lab Winam is fighting to keep afloat, support, and assist young people and create impact. A bet launched by Martin Oloo. Portrait
By Ange Iliza, in Kigali
At the shores of Lake Victoria, in Kisumu, is where their atelier is located. The team and workers consist of mainly young people working with machines, metals, wood, electricity, among others. This atelier is open to anyone with an idea that can be brought to life.
Fab Lab Winam has been in existence since 2018. It was initiated by Martin Oloo, a 32-year-old who saw the need to assist young people who had ideas but lacked means to execute them.
“It was blurry and risky at the time”
When Martin started, he understood that Fab Labs are the work of engineering and machinery. He did not have any background in engineering. So, he decided to go back to school, did a sprint one-year, extensive course on engineering, and came back to start Fab Lab Winam.
“I have always been fond of improving my communities. When I saw the idea of a Fab Lab I was very sure it was needed. But I wasn’t sure how I would make it happen since I lacked the funding and skillset to make it happen. It was blurry and risky at the time.” Oloo narrates in an interview with the African News Agency.
A Fab Lab (or fabrication laboratory) is a small-scale workshop for personal digital fabrication, equipped with an array of flexible computer-controlled tools and various materials, with the aim to make “almost anything”.
There are more than 1,750 Fab Labs all over the globe in over 100 countries including Kenya and Rwanda.
To be a Fab Lab means connecting to a global community of learners, educators, technologists, researchers, makers, and innovators- -a knowledge-sharing network that spans 50 countries and 24 time zones. Because all Fab Labs share common tools and processes, the program is building a global network, a distributed laboratory for research and invention.
Creating impact and confidence in youth
Fab Lab Winam works with young people and businesses in the informal business. They assist to improve original ideas from just an idea to a possible device to a live, working device. Their products include house appliances, convenient machines, and tools.
The lab encourages original ideas that are unique, innovative, and solve a particular problem
As Martin explains what they do, he noted that the lab encourages original ideas that are unique, innovative, and solve a particular problem.
“We encourage our teams to come up with new ideas. This is because our products are in competition with those from Italy and other more advanced companies and we don’t have those good resources. So, we must be extra creative and unique,” Oloo explains.
Fab Lab believes that all people regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, race, or language can make and innovate given access to the knowledge, tools, and support. They provide makers and innovators of different levels of expertise from beginner to experts with tools, machines, technical and business training that enables them to establish a clear path in their product development journey from ideation to market.
Fab Lab works with experts in particular fields who assist young innovators to better their ideas and provide professional skills to come up with even more ideas.
The goal at Fab Lab is to empower local Kenyan communities with skills and knowledge that empower them to become economically able by giving them the ability to solve local challenges. We are keen on offering training opportunities to young entrepreneurs and women communities to help them get their ideas to market,”
“Our wealth lies in people and community. That is why we invest in empowering our community with knowledge and skills. We also uphold a maker culture of collaboration, creativity, and localization in production as we network with the broader global community.” Oloo explained.
Funding and Covid-19
One of the most concerning issues that Fab Lab Winam faces is insufficient funding which was exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic. Covid-19 has prompted some partners to cut on their spending, pull off their support to postpone their support to the lab.
“It has been difficult. We have been struggling to even afford rent because our products are barely selling, and funding has been significantly reduced. We are pursuing some funding and we will hopefully be able to support our team,” Martin explains.
Oloo says the challenge is common for start-ups in Kenya since the government rarely has incentives for such kinds of businesses. He said there are plans to appeal to the authorities concerned to at least cut costs on raw materials, rent, electricity, and taxes.
FabLab Winam works for at least three clients per week. Their products range from house appliances to machinery, among others.