Imagineering new 3D printing business opportunities

The World Bank and COSTECH-supported ReFab Dar project is an experiment designed to help Tanzanians embrace 3D printing as a solution to democratize manufacturing and in doing so to create small businesses that tackle unemployment. Our “Introduction to 3D printing” workshops have been successful in raising awareness of the availability of 3D printers and the basics requirements for 3D printing. This is a great step in the diffusion of the innovation and allows for a “deep dive” into the creation of 3D printing businesses leaving participant's wants only half delivered. Additional training was required to make the ideas into tangible products.

During the first week of March, ReFab Dar held an Advanced Maker's Workshop in partnership with Buni Hub with 15 participants to kindle the fire. The workshop was focused both on using the 3D printers to create prototypes and to “imagineer” new businesses. The participants were trained in 3D printing by ReFab Dar partners Tech for Trade and then handed over to Enviu for the business elements.

The group of 15 was broken in to 5 teams of 3 people each. Each team selected a vertical market segment for their focus. These teams worked together to fill Business Canvas templates and create pitches for their new ideas. The five teams chose Jewelry, Agriculture, Education, Healthcare, and Consumer products as areas where 3D printing could help meet latent market opportunities.

The groups spent the week generating ideas, creating prototypes, and designing business models for their fledgling initiatives. They began prototyping using Thingiverse and other online 3D printing file websites. STL stands for STereoLithography and is a file format for 3D design software. The process of ideating the companies while printing the .stl files was highly successful in helping the participants to actually see the time, plastic, and other inputs into product creation.

Through the process of preparing pitch decks, participants learned basic business dos and don'ts, stating the problem, telling the business model, go to market plan, competition they have, their projections, current status, time line and their “ask” during the pitch. Prototyping later facilitated greater discussion in the lesson on product costing where they were told to evaluate and include all cost determinants on the final cost of the product and prepare the financial business case. Teams were introduced to different start up funding options and techniques for sourcing funds.

By the end of the training, the five teams with newly created start up ideas were ready to present their 3 minute pitches about their businesses.

The five startups who pitched are:

Uzuri & Ubunifu Fashions (U & U Fashions) – Jewelry and Fashion
Elimu Rafiki – Educational manipulatives
Seruka - Physically handicapped tools
Hack me too - Consumer goods and gadgets
NextGen Tech - Drones for agriculture

The startup with the best pitch was then given a 400,000 Tzs credit to purchase filament and continue product development. All of the teams will be given time to use the 3D printers to create their products and mentoring in the development of their business concepts. The winner of the pitch challenge was U & U Fashions. Less than 2 weeks later, U & U Fashions was accepted to the Sauna Safari pitch completion and made their first public pitch.

We know ReFab Dar is onto something groundbreaking as 100% of the participants surveyed in the workshop stated they felt their expectations had been met and all had a desire to move forward with more 3D printing. These aspiring micro-enterprises are a small and limited sample of what the vast opportunities that can be seized by applying 3D printing technologies to disrupt mature industries. As more people become aware and begin utilizing 3D printing technology more innovations designed specifically to fill niche markets in Africa can become available.