The Water Unite and Wellers Teams headed out to Kenya to visit our investees in order to gather further insights on their business models and to see where we could provide technical assistance. Whilst COVID-19 put our plans on hold, it is so important that we were able to meet our investees and experience the reality of the positive impacts they create and their role in generating sustainable development.
An early start for the first day of our trip. First stop on the map - Gearbox Europlacer, pioneering mechanical engineers specialising in printed circuit board manufacturing, backed by a savvy sales and marketing team as well as a cutting edge educational program.
Gearbox Europlacer, an investee of Wellers Impact, represents the first technology and IoT manufacturer in Africa that is entirely independent of the China-Taiwan-Japan manufacturing supply chain for circuit boards and chips. Gearbox has the capability to innovate the East Africa tech supply chain, with plans in the roadmap to infiltrate the rest of the African market and beyond.
The team was met by Dr. Kamau Gachigi, Latiff Cherono and Rowland Wanyama who gave us a tour of the facilities and circuit board technology they manufacture, supply and use.
Kenyan technology solutions to solve Kenyan problems. Climate change with its accompanying frequency in climate shocks have wreaked havoc across sectors including agriculture and healthcare. These catalysts have put a strain on already present problems such as water access and energy as well as financial restraints to access these commodities.
Some young innovators from the Gearbox program have worked on a unique solution to water, energy and climate issues that reside in Kenya. Built from scratch, their device measures the soil-water content and relays this information back over a significant distance. This data is accessible through an app, also coded from scratch by the young team, which informs the user on whether they are watering too much or too little with the ability to switch off the water remotely.
Alongside inspiring and training young engineers through their academy program, Gearbox are well established in their field and meet a vital gap in the market for African technology and manufacturing.
Unbeknownst to us, Gearbox have established an independent relationship with an original Water Unite grantee called Gjenge Makers, a plastics recycling innovator who were coincidentally the next stop on our journey.
Nzambi, the CEO and founder of Gjenge Makers has the spirit, energy and drive like no other, and her work shows it. She introduced her tight-knit team person-by-person on the tour as she showed each stage of the manufacturing process.
Gjenge Makers takes in plastic waste such as low and high density PEP and PP to process it into construction bricks. Affordable, lightweight, cheap, and removes plastic from the environment This is the USP. She then revealed that the durability could be altered to be many times more durable than cement depending on the required usage and therefore depending on the plastics used. Leveraging businesses like this could be life changing, and not just for Nzambi and her team.
“It’s not about the money for me”, she tells us. “The feeling you get when you have to tell a client that you can’t take on a project for them is truly heartbreaking”. Capacity is a limitation for any business, yet this does not get Nzambi or the Gjenge Makers team down and they are able to complete a great many projects per year.
Gearbox Europlacer played a role in boosting the Gjenge Makers capacity through manufacturing and supplying some of their needed machines. Again, Kenyans supporting Kenyans and sustainable Kenyan solutions for Kenyan problems. It was great to see the reality of this relationship and the two innovative business models making great strides domestically in Nairobi.