What General Electric is doing in Nigeria with its GE Garage is not your typical corporate accelerator or even makerspace.
It’s not an incubator, in the sense that there is no funding for younger entrepreneurs or a stake from GE in a startup’s equity. It’s more like an open Fablab, with GE employees around to help anyone coming here to make and do whatever their project is.
The main objective of the GE Garage is to increase the employability of the local workforce through training on new manufacturing and production technology, and, of course, foster a spirit of entrepreneurship. Training will also include leadership development, software programming and business planning, all related to the Lagos market.
The strategic interest for GE is obvious. If, a few years ago, CEO Jeff Immelt told shareholders Africa was “off-radar”, in the latest annual report, he calls the continent “a new frontier” for the group, with the possibility in near future that “more gas turbines would be sold in Africa than in the US on a yearly basis” (Financial Times).
Power is a big issue in Africa’s most populous country, with power cuts being a given (and oil-powered generator a luxury, although a pollutant one). As we saw in our Nigeria startup ecosystem report, the cost of infrastructure is one of the main obstacles entrepreneurs are facing.
GE Garage in Lagos, Nigeria: a place to increase the employability of the local workforce
We had a discussion with Osagie Ogunbor, Communications Manager for General Electric West Africa, and asked their team a few questions about the GE Garage
Innovation is Everywhere – When did GE decide to open its series of Garages, and what place does it take for them in the broader link they build with innovation outside the group (e.g. other companies have incubators, etc.)? What is then the opportunity to open such a space in Africa, and why, in Africa, did you decide for Nigeria, and then why Lagos?
The decision to extend GE Garages to Nigeria was taken in January this year during the visit of our global Chairman and CEO Jeff Immelt. This is also part of a global plan to take the Garages experience beyond the U.S and make it global. Nigeria just happens to be one of the first locations outside of the U.S.
With each stop, the garage will be tailored to meet local needs, and continue building on the great ideas and learnings from previous cities. Through its expansion, Garages will foster a culture of collaboration in each market, building entrepreneurs and young employable youths imbued with relevant skills.
Innovation is Everywhere – We understand the Garage is about to be launched, can you tell us a bit more about what is inside? What do you provide? do people need to register, pay for a plan? Also, what differences will there be with the other garages already existing, such as in DC? Is there Africa or Nigeria specific activities in the garage you’re going to set up?
From June 23 to July 14, 2014, Garages will activate in Lagos, Nigeria at GE’s regional headquarters. The Garages program will expand on past successes by evolving into a long-term program dedicated to training skilled, employable workers and creating employment opportunities amongst service suppliers within the Power Generation sector.
This three week brand-building activity is designed to lead into to the launch of a long-term skills training program in Nigeria. Together, the short-term activation and long-term program serve as a model which can be replicated across emerging markets and be expanded to address subsequent sectors around the globe.
We are working with targeted groups that will find the Garages experience relevant and quite useful. This includes Innovation and co-creation hubs, the techy community, educational institutions etc. Yes participants will register but no form of prayer is required. There are also industry-specific Nigeria thought leadership activities spanning Healthcare Power as well as the Oil and Gas industry.
Innovation is Everywhere – I seem to understand you want with the Garage to increase the employability of local people. Is this an objective? What else do you do this for? What do GE gain from this? Do you have a way to assess a ROI or a return for this type of project at the group level (country or worldwide?)
We do hope that the garage experience will help improve employability of local people. Our target is to establish an employable base of skilled workers in Nigeria by teaching skills that have application in the fastest growing industries. Specifically, Garages will drive awareness and education on entrepreneurship via technology, hardware and software innovations in industry.
We are establishing a partnership consortium committed to skills training in Nigeria’s growing areas of industry and entrepreneurship
Innovation is Everywhere – How do you connect back what’s happening in the garage in Lagos with the rest of 1/ GE Group 2/ the world (conferences? talks?)? Do you intend to send people from the Garages at some point in branches of the group?
With the help of GE Foundation partner Points of Light, GE plans to activate the 400+ employees in Nigeria, as well as the global African American Forum within GE. Together, we’ll create a network of mentors, coaches and teachers, and help each other grow the future of Power Generation and Healthcare in Africa.
These programs complement the breadth of skill-building underway through the GE Foundation’s Developing Health Globally program, including nurse
anesthetists training, bio-medical engineering training and other advanced employable skills training programs.
The Garages Nigeria program will serve as a model which can be replicated across emerging markets and be expanded to address subsequent sectors around the globe. With each stop, the Garage will be tailored to meet local needs, and continue building on the learnings from previous cities. Through its expansion, Garages will foster a culture of collaboration in each market, across GE, and makers and entrepreneurs around the world.
GE Garage is itself built within an ecosystem of actors in innovation and human resources
GE Garage will invite guest speakers to broaden the horizons and skills of the local teams. To run the garage, GE partnered with the Dangote Foundation (see article from All Africa), a local NGO promoting social and economic transformation through education among others. Another partner not directly linked to the Garage itself but to GE’s strategy is their investment into Calabar Tech, a tech and engineering school in Nigeria.
Previous GE Garages started in the US in 2012, with the same mission of advocating new ways to innovate for anyone, through the use of 3D printer, laser cutters, CNC mills, injection molders and Arduino kits.