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The Story of PCs and Parts 

TLDR

I launched a 2 sided marketplace (www.pcsandparts.co.ke) for Kenyan’s and local electronic store owners to buy, sell, and trade the parts necessary to build personal computers. On the Hardware side, built up modular computers with University Students in Kenya as proof of concept for our modular building platform 

Deliverables

Website- https://pcsandpartskenya.com/

Platform - http://pcsandparts.co.ke/ (CURRENTLY UNDER REDESIGN - https://pcsandparts.netlify.app/)

University Innovation Chapters - University of Nairobi, Jomo Kenyatta University 

Grassroots - 6 Secondary Schools, 4 Community Centers plugged into the PCs and Parts builder network (supported bycrowd-sourced funding)

Computer Specs - (released on the website) 

 

The Story  

I stumbled into this wonderful opportunity when we first met in which we were able to obtain a good amount of modularized PCs for Kenya from a technology company called Kano.

I was incredibly excited about this and the gravity of introducing such technology in a developing country that is being infiltrated with technology and venture money like Kenya. Kenya has the perfect infrastructure (or rather lack of infrastructure) for something like this because it is so phenomenally needed. Imagine you give a computer to someone, sounds like a great deed because you are giving them the “power to compute”. It sounds great until you realize that in 4-5 years (or less due to the environment) these computers break down, and there is no way that they can afford to fix them. Even if they could, the network for fixing computers in Nairobi (the major hub of all of Kenya) is extremely poor and corrupt. So, the idea of introducing a modular computer that Kenyans can build themselves, understand, and fix themselves was so exciting to me.

The skinny metal box of mystery worked for the western world, but it took a ton of infrastructure to build that network of resources that exists around that, and just throwing it into an environment without that is naive.

I knew that I was not going to be able to create that network and the entire computing landscape (I am ambitious but I am not stupid), but a modular PC was a good place to start.

Then, I got to thinking a little bit more - where the heck am I supposed to take these? Give them to most schools and they will get stolen from the kids and/ or the school. Give them to the poor and they will sell them off for money to buy food. For those who don’t know, throwing gifts at people is just a band-aid IF all goes right- normally it is a failed attempt.

But anyway, I thought of what else we could do with this, and I started talking to every person imaginable about this idea. At first, I was asking where I could give these computers, then I was asking what entrepreneur could I give this blueprint of technology to and have them run with this idea. I went far down that rabbit hole, thinking of potential engineering students and employees of some cool Mechatronic companies in the city.

I thought about it ... a LOT. You can see some of the many chicken-scratch ideas that I had along the way. 

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Then, iteration number five later, I realized I was on the outskirts of a very big idea. What if you could take this modular concept of building your own computer like it is a lego set, and give that to people on a large scale? That would set up a large-scale computing landscape of what I like to call “open-sourcing computer manufacturing”.

I talked to more people and found out that not a single computer is assembled here in Kenya. Worse, every assembled computer has heavy taxes that are at the lowest 16% of the value of the computer.  To add to that, getting most Macs and high-end Microsoft computers requires you to ship your computer to another continent. No wonder people have no computers, and most university students use raspberry pis their entire education.

 

There is this incredibly large hole that needs to be filled, and it has not been traversed because it is so hard for a company to do that on its own. They would need to set up the entire ecosystem of computing here, all for a population that has little to no disposable income. Unsurprisingly, most companies want to make money. 

I started now going around to computer shops and building with them, super sketchy circuit boards like this one first, and then watching their computer-building processes 

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So, PCs and Pieces was born. A platform that provides all of the knowledge and resources necessary to build your own computers. Think about open-source coding- it accelerates at a fast rate because everyone gets to contribute. This is how the computer economy will work. You are giving people blueprints to make computers for themselves or make ones to sell on PCs and Pieces. Result - low-cost computers and Kenyas making a business for themselves. It is the definition of kickstarting the local economy because it has nothing to do with me, myself, and I making money and everything to do with giving some power in resources to the people themselves.

We built this in our engineering vacuum, knowing that this was just going to be the framework of a platform.

At this point what we had: A good IDEA, but that is all it was- just an idea that we had built something up for.

So, then I went out to a ton of universities in the area and started pitching the idea to them. I told them that “this was not my project, this was not about me” and that it was something that I wanted them to play a vital role in.

This idea was created for not the students that I was working with, but for those who don’t have the opportunity to go to a university. It was created for those people who desperately want to build themselves a way out, but don’t have any capital to spend on a very expensive computer. It was created as a way for people to learn and start making a future for their own country. Rather than just importing in computers from China for very cheap to sell, the people would be building up Kenya in making them and people would be investing in Kenya in buying them.

After talking to students I discovered this extra layer of added value, where we were providing students with the first real-life building experience. So many students have no way to get jobs after graduation due to the antiquated syllabuses and lack of real-world experience, but now they have an official project under their belt - that in itself is huge.

So, now students (and myself) are helping in one of three ways based on their interests and skills

  1. Building up specifications for the first ever Kenyan manufactured computers. They will be getting inspiration from a Kano PC that we give them, and then going out to the Kenyan market to build a high-functioning affordable PC with all locally sourced parts.

  2. Managing and continuing to build on the platform in which parts will be bought and sold

  3. Using fabrication skills to start building the non-electrical parts of a computer. These students will design a variety of “shells” or “computer housing” that will hold all the parts of a computer. These can then be either fabricated locally or 3D printed on small scales and sold for a profit by the students themselves.

This is a story of iteration, and our iterations ran us far away from this idea of just “giving out computers”, but Kano PCs will still play a vital role in helping us kickstart this with some amazing Kenyan engineers and students. They have a physical blueprint and inspiration of beautifully engineered modular PCs and those students will be the first ones to create their own computers for PCs and Parts.

Some Deliverables: 
 

Website- https://pcsandpartskenya.com/

Platform - http://pcsandparts.co.ke/ (CURRENTLY UNDER REDESIGN - https://pcsandparts.netlify.app/)

University Innovation Chapters - University of Nairobi, Jomo Kenyatta University 

Grassroots - 6 Secondary Schools, 4 Community Centers - all plugged into the PCs and Parts builder network 

Computer Specs - (released on the website) 

Here is an old refurbished phone we were trying to salvage batteries from and a computer that we build to find use out of, some old computers we put back together, and some of my students working

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