In mid-2011, Point Blue’s founder ended up spending a bit of time in Tanzania. A former colleague of his at SolidWorks, a $500-million software company based in Boston, asked him to swing by Gasabo 3D in Rwanda to see if that company could use a bit of assistance.
SolidWorks had invested in Gasabo 3D, and was concerned that the company was not on the right track. Gasabo 3D’s main focus was to obtain 2D-to-3D conversion contracts from western firms that wanted to transfer their existing 2D paper drawings of mechanical parts into 3D models, but business was scarce and there was too much competition from similar firms in India and China.
Gasabo 3D had been established as part of the Rwandan government’s push to develop a thriving tech sector in one of Africa’s most densely populated countries. In order to accelerate the country’s transition from an agrarian economy to a more diversified tech- and manufacturing-centric economy, firms like Gasabo were focused on transforming Rwanda into Eastern Africa’s new IT/tech hub.
In a matter of hours, we realized that Gasabo’s skills went far beyond the requirements for simply converting 2D paper to 3D computer models: Gasabo’s staff spent their time actually designing products for many East African markets! They had designed silk spinning machines, brick making machines, and a variety of other tools specific to Rwandans’ many requirements (cheap, easily replaced parts, simple parts, readily available raw materials, etc.). It didn’t take long to realize that their competitive advantage was that they really understood how to design products for their home market — something that western companies typically didn’t ‘get’.
Point Blue advised Gasabo 3D to start targeting western product design firms that were trying to develop products for East African consumers. These firms often needed the expertise of local partners, and Gasabo’s engineers had some great skills to offer. So far, the strategy has begun to pay off, and Gasabo has designed products for several western companies and has more projects in the pipeline. We hope to see them partner with even more western companies that seek expertise in developing markets.