Entrepreneurs in Africa, and all  over the world, encounter several obstacles, which range from a lack of funding to bureaucratic red tape hindering their progress and a shortage of meaningful skills development programmes.

The solution, of course, is for  big companies such as GE to invest in the development of entrepreneurs by rekindling interest in invention, innovation and manufacturing, and this is precisely why GE created the Garages programme in the United States  in 2012.

Soon after the success of the first Garages programme, GE launched a well-received workshop in Lagos in 2014 and in December 2016, they launched a permanent space at their Lagos office, dedicated to the training of young Nigerians.

GE Africa Communications and Public Affairs Director, Patricia Obozuwa spoke to us about why the Lagos Garage is vital for Nigeria’s ongoing development. “When people come  into the Garage, they are exposed to advanced manufacturing technology. The Garage is there to build a manufacturing ecosystem and teach people the skills that are needed to be competitive in the future. These advanced technologies are new globally and in the same way that Nigerians have crossed the whole traditional telecommunications system and moved straight to mobile phones and adopted it in a big way, we anticipate that Nigerians will embrace these advanced manufacturing technologies and become immediately competitive  globally,” said Obozuwa.

Those involved in manufacturing will know that if you aren’t refining production with modern technologies, it’s highly likely you’ll be out of business in the not-too-distant future. This is one of the reasons why the Lagos Garage is so important for the overall development of this sector in Nigeria. At the Garage, entrepreneurs can get to grips with equipment such as CNC mills, laser cutters and 3D printers.

“It is not a one-off training. We will sustain this over a long period of time. We have four-week sessions that we are running once a quarter. Since we launched last year, we have successfully completed three training sessions. We bring in about 25 people and over the four-week period, they have full access to the advanced technology equipment in the GE Lagos Garage. We have instructors who instruct them specifically on how to use the different equipment and help them to produce prototypes. We have an instructor for 3D printing; an instructor on laser cutters; and an instructor for CNC mill. These instructors are there full time to work with them and then we bring in experts to run sessions with them around business development, marketing, prototyping and to develop their  technical expertise.”

Due to the fact that GE considers itself to be a partner in building a sustainable future for Africa, the company believes very firmly in developing skills, empowering communities and solving challenges by investing in innovative ideas.

“At the end of the day, when a person comes in to try and advance their ideas, there is a personal responsibility that comes with it. People who have taken time to develop these ideas are generally committed to making them happen. So, what we do is while we provide them with training, we also provide them with avenues to  meet potential investors who will help advance their business by providing grants or loans. Graduates from the programme have secured about $1-million in funding so far, some during the programme and others after the programme by being able to show investors prototypes that were made at the GE Garage.”

The Nigerian government is incredibly supportive of skills development and the Lagos State permanent secretary from the ministry of employment and wealth creation spoke about the state’s plans for skills development at the opening of the Lagos Garage last year. GE Nigeria is also in conversation with that particular ministry with regards to potentially working together in future to support skills development in the country.

Ongoing investment in the Garages programme is part of GE’s broader initiative to consolidate its industrial and digital businesses as the company is now focused on entrenching its reputation as the world’s premier digital industrial company. “The transformation to digital industrial is a process where physical operations intersect physical sciences, data and advanced analytics. GE Digital is the leading software company for the industrial internet and we are helping other companies accelerate their own digital transformation to fuel productivity and growth using Predix, GE’s operating system for the industrial internet,” added Obozuwa.

“GE, as a company, is diversified in terms of our industrial and digital  businesses, and we are committed to working in partnership with governments  and private companies across Africa, and certainly in Nigeria, to build a  sustainable future. By bringing our technologies here, we can work with  governments and companies to develop infrastructure across Nigeria.”

Given that 95 people have been trained at the Lagos Garage; more than 100 prototypes have been developed; 40 business have been influenced by what was learnt at the Garage; and that 20 ideas have been developed into actual business models, it’s safe to say that the Garage is achieving its objectives of giving Nigerians a state-of-the-art space to innovate, develop skills and take the digital revolution head-on.

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