Robert Mburu, winner of the Maker Faire Africa GE Mentorship Prize provides us with a day by day account of his visit to the GE Technology Centre in Bangalore, India:

Living the John F Welch Technology Centre Dream

Day 1
16 hours after I had left my home, the giant Boeing powered by a GE engine landed at the Bangalore airport on November 29 at 8am. This was followed by a 2 1/2 hour drive to the hotel, Clarion, a stone’s throw away from the phenomenal GE’s technology Centre in Bangalore.

At the main gate of the center, it was clear that I had arrived at the birthplace of
innovative technology. I was excited to start my journey.

After a brief introduction by Geetha, the administrative assistant at the Research
Center, I met the research guru, T. Asokan, a friendly and humble scientist.
He briefed me on what GE is and does. I learned that GE has research and
development facilities across the globe in Niskayuna, Munich, Shanghai and
Brazil. It also has a host of other manufacturing and assembly engineering
facilities in Memphis, Tenessee and Greenville in the US. Asokan told me that
GE’s technological expertise ranges from water purification, aviation technology,
rail systems to efficient energy technologies. It is also in capital and even owns
one of the leading media service providers.

I was taken around the different science labs by Adnan. He informed me
about the main research activities in the labs and briefed me on some of their
inventions and innovations, both completed and ongoing projects.

The projects were incredible, the scientists young and creative, and the facilities
world class. I started to understand why GE was voted amongst the best
companies in the world for over 7 times in 11 years.

Day 2
Day 2 would be the busiest day at the technology center and I was really excited to finally get to demonstrate my innovation to the brainstorming team.

Asokan picked me up at 8.30 am from the hotel and we kicked off the day with
a session on the process of innovation. Asokan took me through the whole
process: from the conceptualization of an idea, imagination, and actualization to
how to bring various factors into play in realizing an innovation. “When everyone is thinking the same, then no one is thinking”, said Asokan. He taught me how to look at problems as challenges that can be overcome and how to think ‘out of the box’. I got insights on how to identify problems and to imagine possible solutions.  I was inspired!

He had also prepared a presentation in which he showcased his own innovations. I was impressed by the amount of inventions he had developed and had help developing.

Afterwards, I had to chance to meet Ramanan, the Chief Financial Officer
at the technology center. He explained me how I could patent a product and
seek financial support from business partners or solicit for credit from banking
institutions.  I couldn’t wait to sit together with the brainstorming team. I briefed them on my invention, told them about the challenges I faced while making it and we had a creative brainstorming session on how to overcome these.

After lunch, I met a team of young scientists in the presence of Asokan and
told them about my innovation as well. I was also introduced to the Intellectual
Property experts, including Sukla Chandra, who gave me more insight in how to
get the right type of protection for a creation or invention.

In the evening, I was invited to the Chief Scientist’s house, where I got to see all
the 25 awards and trophies he had won over the years for his inventions. Later,
he took me to Bangalore city to have dinner with his lovely family. It was a great
day and I was looking forward to my 3rd day in India.

My Last Day
My day started early again. Asokan picked me up from the hotel at 8.30am and I met with Kavitha, the Comunications Specialist, for an interview. We talked about my background, hobbies, my inspirations and my inventions.

After, I joined a team of young scientists, who offered me guidance on how to
take my passion for technology and innovation to a next level, and gave me tips
on how to approach some international universities for a scholarship and other
online studies.  In the afternoon, I was very lucky to be able sit with some of the leaders at the research center, including Raj, the Human Resources leader. We talked about future action plans and we wrapped up the day.

When it was time for me to say goodbye, Asokan gave me a souvenir that I will treasure forever, a signed photograph of the Global Research Center at Bangalore.  I could only conclude by saying that it was an incredible experience!

Read more about Robert’s Maker Faire Africa display here
Follow his blog here
Learn more about the individual Maker Faire Africa makers here.

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Emeka Okafor is a venture catalyst and entrepreneur. He lives in New York City. He is the Maker Faire Africa curator.

Emeka points out some very interesting facts on Maker Faire Africa’s contributions:

  • creates awareness for African innovation
  • helps cialis online pharmacy build a “productive class” whose foundation is laid on building problem solving systems
  • celebrates the existing knowledge of individual African countries and connects it across the continent and abroad
  • building a community is a basis for business
  • African makers focus on things for which there seems to be an immediate need/market
  • the biggest market is the indigenous

Eric Hersman, one of the organizers of Makers Faire 2010, talks about his learnings from last year’s event and what MFA is planning for 2010.

After the first day I have to say that I love the spirit I have felt at the event. The same like last year … very vibrant community, expiriencing that they do have omething to give, to show and then – indeed – to celebrate!

Steve Song is founder of VillageTelco, based in South Africa and he is one of the makers at Makers Faire 2010.

A village telco is a community telephone network. It is based on a suite of open source applications that enable entrepreneurs to set up and operate a telephone service in a specific area or supporting the needs of a specific community [1].  The first village telco has been established by Dabba at Orange Farm, a township near Johannesburg, South Africa. Users can make free local calls to other Dabba subscribers, as well as use pay-as-you-go vouchers to make calls to ‘phones on other networks [2].

Technically, a village telco consists of:

  • a mesh network made up of Wi-Fi mini-routers combined with an analogue telephone adaptor (aka ‘Mesh Potato’)
  • SIP phones
  • a pay-as-you-go billing and management system
  • a SIP/VOIP server
  • least cost routing equipment

Together, the components comprise an easy-to-use, standards-based, wireless, local, do-it-yourself, telephone company toolkit. The goal of a village telco is to make local telephony in developing countries inexpensive enough that it is virtually free. This has become possible, thanks to advances in open source telephony software and the dramatic decrease in the cost of wireless broadband technology.

At Maker Faire Africa 2010 Joy Tang and I interviewed Norbert Okec from Uganda on his prototype of a street light system.


MFA 2010

Maker Faire Africa 2010 has already started. Despite the morning chill, things are looking up.




Briefing on house keeping issues.


Sites have been set up and more are being done.