Tag Archives: Entrepreneurship

Fab Labs – Democratizing Manufacturing

15 Dec

While traveling through the states of Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro in Brazil last week, I often found myself dwelling on the challenges and intricacies of the supply chains of various goods and services in both the densely populated cities and the sparse, remote areas that I visited. As far as emerging markets are concerned, Brazil is one of the most developed, but its infrastructure—though rapidly developing—and its trade policies dictate that goods are often priced at a premium to their perceived fair market value. For years, multinationals have struggled with the challenges confronting distribution in markets such as Brazil, but what about the local entrepreneurs and manufacturers?

I spent two days on Ilha Grande, an island paradise a few kilometers away from the mainland, 45 minutes by high-speed water taxi. Everything anyone could need – tourists and locals alike – had to be brought in by boat. I watched from the pier as crates of food, souvenirs and various widgets were hauled in by hand, one load at a time. Not only are these goods more expensive because of the high costs incurred in transporting them to an island – as Manhattanites can testify – but they also dictate a larger environmental footprint.

“Downtown” Ilha Grande

I was reminded of a recent talk at Digital Capital Week where RTKL architect Kashuo Bennett discussed the concept of “fab labs”, small-scale fabrication laboratories that democratize manufacturing by providing local innovators with access to digital fabrication technology and rapid prototyping.  Fab Labs, which originated in MIT’s Center for Bits and Atoms, have opened in dozens of countries around the world, and their potential applications in developing countries and remote regions are particularly interesting. Instead of paying significant premiums to move goods around the world to places such as Ilha Grande, perhaps local entrepreneurs could harness local Fab Labs to design, develop, and manufacture products.

The application of Fab Labs in developing countries and elsewhere holds numerous benefits, as well as significant challenges that cannot be ignored. Firstly, fab labs allow local entrepreneurs to stimulate the local economy. When goods from large multinationals are sold in a given market, that money flows back to the corporations, rather than staying in the local economy; however, if products are designed, manufactured and marketed locally, the economic benefit created stays in that market. Additionally, one can argue the sustainability aspect of manufacturing locally, as well as the benefits of educating, training and hiring local workers needed to manufacture Fab Lab products.

Granted, it is a pipe dream to think that any community could just give up trade and manufacture everything locally – particularly given the various resources and inputs needed to manufacture anything designed in a Fab Lab in the first place – but it does seem that there is significant momentum behind such movements, and myriad markets in which the application of such “local” elements could produce innovative solutions.


The Entrepreneurial Traveler – See For Yourself

1 Jun

Every single day, we’re bombarded with mind-blowing facts about the developing world, notably China and India. These superlative statements attest to the ridiculous growth of everything – economies, size of middle class, anything related to consumerism- and if you read between the lines, the message is loud and clear: if you want to make a lot of money, the next (hundred) billion dollars are in China and India.

Ok, I get the point; China and India are waking giants. They are grumpy after their naps and want some milk, dammit! But how am I, humble wannabe serial entrepreneur, supposed to design a business around the unmet needs of hundreds of millions of Chinese and Indian peoples if I have no clue what those latent needs are?

The answer: ENTREPRENEURIAL TOURISM. You know what the Great Wall and the Taj Mahal look like (great, long,old and white, symmetrical, tall, respectively), so why not cut to the chase and find out how you can ‘double down on ’04 Google stock’, if you will?

Tourism is a significant contributor to GDP in both China and India, but for the most part, tourism in those countries is like going to the zoo, where you get up and close with a different culture, but only so close, and in a very limited capacity. There are myriad reports describing in detail the intricacies of Chinese and Indian culture, and discussing what business models work best in those countries and who the ideal consumers are, but really the best way for anyone to experience and learn from these cultures is to visit there himself.

What industry are you interested in? Hospitality, food and beverage, retail, apparel? Depending on your interest and budget, I could imagine a 2-6 week immersive trip that is both a macro cultural and social overview, as well as a micro ethnographic study of consumer behavior. If this service were available to me now, I would select an option that provides a multilingual tour guide, visits half a dozen Chinese or Indian cities, explores the complete supply chain and all its components: offices, factories, and stores.

This service would appeal to corporations who would rather send a strategist out in the field rather than rely on the secondhand information from research firms, as well as universities, students and wealthy explorers looking for the next big proverbial mountain to climb.  I think there is ample demand for such a service, but the challenge would be finding suitable local hires who are well-traveled in their homelands, knowledgeable and diplomatic.