A Gambian engineering entrepreneur is among 16 chosen for the 2021 Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation, making her the first Gambian to make it to the prestigious shortlist.
As a mechanical and electronics engineer, Fatou Juka Darboe and her co-founder met in The Gambia two years ago, and their interest in technology and 3D printing brought them together to form Make3D Company Limited, out of which Make3D Medical was born.
Now, the UK’s Royal Academy of Engineering has identified the company to be among the shortlist of innovators to receive commercialisation support for engineering innovation developing scalable engineering solutions to local challenges in Africa.
When her team and herself applied for this programme, they were aware it was huge and gave it their best. They believed that their innovation deserved the opportunity to be scaled up and today, she felt “honoured” that the Royal Academy of Engineering saw their innovation fit to make it to the next round of the programme.
Make3D company offers both final products and capacity-building packages. It designs and produces devices to treat fractures, such as braces, splints, connectors and spare parts for medical devices. Its product packages include medical hardware and software, training for staff, raw materials, access to a central database of verified 3D designs, design on demand and maintenance. Make3D uses these packages to offer medical professionals an opportunity to develop their own products.
“Make3D Medical uses 3D printing to develop and manufacture cost-effective and customised orthopaedic, medical and assistive equipment for medical institutions and their patients,” she told The Point in an exclusive over the weekend.
Make3D Medical has identified areas where its devices can be used as an alternative to surgery, and where they can be used to modify existing devices to make them more culturally acceptable, more physician- and patient-friendly, and better suited to local climates than Plaster of Paris.
Make3D Medical is currently the only custom 3D printing medical solution of its kind in The Gambia, using easy to operate technology and medically compliant materials to provide cost-effective and efficient solutions.
“As a tech-preneur, the dream is to always grow your network and market. This programme is already giving us the opportunity to structure our business and get it ready for a larger audience. We are currently getting linked with a huge network of innovators, mentors and professionals to develop and scale up our business. This will help us grow and professionalise our business,” she said.
An eight-month period of tailored training and mentoring culminates in a showcase event where a winner is selected to receive £25,000, along with three runners-up, who are each awarded £10,000.
Before going into business, Darboe had one 3D printer, and had been invited by Robotics Hub GM Education to give lessons on its functionalities. When the Covid-19 pandemic started, Darboe and her co-founder signed a contract with the Medical Research Council Unit The Gambia at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine to develop medical devices capable of being manufactured with a 3D printer.
In 2020, Make3D Medical developed more than 20 3D printable devices in cooperation with various partners, including inhaler spacers, humeral braces and Y-connectors. To date, more than 1,000 elements have been manufactured for the medical industry in The Gambia.