It is quite easy to buy a part that one intends to use in a hardware product. Most sellers have websites with their inventory listed and with a registered payment card your bank can be charged almost immediately. Then begins the waiting game. Across the African continent, parts take weeks and months to get delivered to the teams that need them, many times without any tracking information or expected delivery date. They either show up or they don’t.
While they wait for parts, hardware entrepreneurs can not put their plans on hold. Community builders like Josh Opoku-Agyemang have built up a network of people via platforms like WhatsApp where parts can be bought, bartered, or shared. In this zine, we hear how communities like his have helped grow the hardware expertise in their locale.
As part of our previous reporting at Hardware Things, we have also heard from entrepreneurs like Yann Kasay in Madagascar who, having to ship second-life battery parts from Kenya, finds semi-full cargo containers that more established companies are shipping their products in. By placing his own batteries in these containers he saves some cost and knows they are arriving on time. It is also not uncommon to send a part to a friend who is flying back from Europe or North America and pick it up from them when they arrive.
While these strategies seem to work for each individual entrepreneur, they are not sustainable for an ecosystem that wants to grow. There needs to be a robust supply chain system starting at the continent-wide level and then moving down to within the countries. That said, the hardware startups that have found a way to thrive have lessons to show others how to design delay-proof business models. In this zine, we hear from SAYeTECH and Plug ‘n’ Grow — startups in the agriculture space who have designed their processes in this way.
For the hardware ecosystem to grow, there also needs to be a steady stream of talent. In lieu of this, Charles Ikem discusses in the zine how subtle policy changes with regards to right-to-repair regulations can take advantage of supply chain difficulties to develop homegrown electronic talent. To round off the contributions, Wambui Nyabero shares her experiences in new product development in Kenya having arrived to the country after years of experience abroad.
The African hardware ecosystem may not be where it should at the moment, thanks to inefficiencies like supply chain difficulties, but what startups learn from these circumstances can determine how robust their business models are — and that’s never a bad thing.
While work still needs to be done, hardware for the continent is positioned for a big future. One where the end users will have the ultimate influence.
This piece features in No Tracking, a zine by Hardware Things. Get a copy.