Scarcity fuels Gaza hardware invention boom
Following the successful Bold Knot crowdfunding campaign* in 2015, Gazan entrepreneurs have started pursuing their own hardware startup dreams.
Combine this with the Gaza strip’s 10th year of the blockade and it's creating a growing demand for tools and equipment not available in the local market. These problems are empowering locals to start building.
Research’s role in supporting hardware innovation
The Islamic University of Gaza (IUG), home to some 20,000 students, set up the Projects and Research Center (PRC) in 2002 to support academic and commercial hardware innovation, offering open labs and tools for students and researchers from inside and outside the university to experiment and test hardware prototypes.
Ammar Abu Hadrous, head of PRC and an electrical engineering researcher, told Wamda the center helped orient and support students wishing to develop hardware graduation projects, and helped match-make them with startup incubators to developing concepts further.
He said in general there were three main barriers that hardware projects faced: the first, and most obvious, was the lack of funding; the second was the limited availability of tools and equipment due to the closure; and finally there was the problem of moving projects from the research phase into production.
“There is the problem of limited devices and tools available, such as the Raspberry pi and other devices used in hardware projects, but many times workarounds are found. Additionally, students are skilled but lack funding and business orientation, so we link them up with incubators,” Abu Hadrous said.
Printing inventiveness in Gaza
3D Printing Art cofounder Mohammad Abu Matar had been designing electronic circuit boards for a few years before he realized he needed to get into 3D printing to print the parts he needed to boost his electronics hardware business, because they were not available locally.
Abu Matar had been trying for get hold on a 3D printer for years, but when he realized the difficulty of bringing one into Gaza he decided to make one himself.
He soon found that this led him yet into another problem: he couldn’t easily find the plastic filament used for printing. So he decided to build a filament extruder, a machine that converts small pieces of raw plastic into the filament threads used by a 3D printer to print models.
“Many components were not available and I had to wait for months, but once I secured all the necessary parts I finished the machine. I can now sell 3D printers and their filaments for individuals and organizations for a very reasonable price,” he said.
He has so far printed prototype 3D limbs for people with disabilities as prototypes.
3D Printing Art is one of some 20 startups being incubated in the third cohort of the Mobaderoon (Entrepreneurs) project, an incubator started by IUG in late 2015 and supported by Taawon and the Arab Fund.
Exploring the horizon
Media drones, or Un-manned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) that enable shooting photos or video from a relatively high altitude, have found their way into some media production production companies in Gaza.
This technology remains, however, costly for smaller organizations and entrepreneurs, something that Ahmad Abu Hadda and Hasan Alhallaq feel should change with their project The Explorer Robot.
The duo have faced the same problems of limited funding and limited supply of parts, which is why they have also joined Mobaderoon project. The team has since managed to source drone parts from inside the Gaza strip and brought a few motors from abroad to build a working prototype.
Alhallaq said that their first prototype was hit by a football and slightly damaged, but the team has manufactured a new body and is currently preparing to test its balance in the air, and GPS integration was in the works.
While Abu Hadda said they aimed to use the drone for photography services, it could also be used for rescue missions as it could carry a medikit weighing up to six kilograms.
From prototype to production
Engineering startup Sketch Engineering is incubated at IUG’s incubator Project Seed, and is loosely focused on designing products for local and regional industrial problems.
Sketch Engineering cofounder Amal Abu Mueileq said with limited financing and a tough local market, they were looking at developing only one of their concepts right now, a climbing carriage that can be used by people with disabilities to climb stairs.
Abu Mueileq said the team was currently manufacturing a mold of the carriage that could be used to mass produce it at a lower price, but the question remained if the market would actually take it on.
While the hardware trend is growing in the region as a whole, the limited accessibility of places like the Gaza strip remain a stumbling block for entrepreneurs in that area. Time only will tell if their limited access to outside market will be make-or-break for these startups.
* Bold Knot’s Indiegogo campaign ended on July 19, 2015, and an update on their page one month ago said it was beginning to start shipping. The founders have not responded to several attempts to confirm whether this is the case, following complaints on their Facebook page about non-delivery.