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How the FabLabs Team Brought Together 10,000 Geeks to the MENA's Largest Maker Faire

Ahead of the region’s most anticipated geek gathering on April 8th, we meet the team behind the event that has been pushing boundaries and bringing together thousands of makers with their alternative energy projects, 3D printers, and crazy cool drones.

“You know this feeling you get when you have someone who doubts you can do something, and you accomplish it anyway?” says Ahmed Alaa, co-founder and Business Development Manager of FabLab Egypt. The energetic team behind FabLab are putting their efforts together to set yet another successful Maker Faire, one that's expected to surpass all expectations of last year's when they got 10,000 participants. Surrounded by graffiti paintings, enormous 3D printers, laser cutters and an amazingly quirky musical instrument called Tubulium, the FabLab team are designing a huge surprise for this years’ Maker Faire event.

“It is not easy money, so investors and incubators don’t usually make a lot of effort to help us, while they can help someone who is building a mobile app and can guarantee easy money. Yet this is real; it is difficult but necessary,” Alaa says. Initiated in 2012, FabLab Egypt had the vision to conquer the hardware industry and provide a variety of services for all the ambitious people who are passionate about creating new products or developing old ones. “We believe that everyone has the chance to embrace the maker within him; they just need a fair opportunity to unleash their own innovation and creativity on the right track,” the entrepreneur says.

The team, now made up of 35 geeks, was initially formed by Hisham El Khodeir, Mahmoud El Safty, and Dina Elzansaly. “We met by coincidence. Dina was studying at MIT, and was aware of the FabLab concept. She wanted to establish a FabLab in Egypt, and surprisingly, the FabLab foundation told her that there was someone working on the same idea; Hisham El Khodeir. This is where it all started,” explains Omar El Safty, General Manager of Fab Lab Egypt and one of CairoScene’s 25 under 25. "Moving from a garage to this villa, we have gone through several structural changes because we had just started with no clear plans or business model to follow. Now, we have a clear vision and a sustainable business model to pursue,” he explains, sitting in one of the many rooms, labs, and co-working spaces their office has in Maadi. “Our main goal at FabLab Egypt is establishing the culture of making in Egypt and the Arab World,” he affirms.

As their biggest event, Maker Faire Cairo, is set to begin on April 8th, Alaa explains the spirit behind this massive gathering “Maker Faire is an event where everybody meets to showcase their projects, discover new ideas and designs, learn, network and connect with other makers and to eventually enjoy their time.” Kicking off their first edition in 2015, the fair exceeded all expectations with 5,000 participants at the GrEEK Campus. But it was in 2016 when the crowd doubled to a whopping 10,000 attendees that they broke records, crowning themselves as the biggest maker event in the entire Arab world. “It felt amazing. It was amazing that we gathered up this big a community,” El Safty recalls. “The maker community doesn’t usually have that much exposure at all; everyone doubts us. So it was incredible, in five years we were able to reach the place we are at now, and we have all the money we need.”

"We want the 10,000 people coming this year to be executors, not only watchers,” the team says.

This year, the event is setting the bets higher, changing the programme to include various 10-15 minute workshops, from wood-working programmes and cooking activities to robot testing. “This year we are embedding two new sections where they integrate technology with fashion design, automotive and a bikers section,” Alaa clarified.

This year we are embedding two new sections where they integrate technology with fashion design, automotive and a bikers section

Besides aiming to increase the number of their audience, the team is focusing on doubling the number of executors and makers; focusing on quality rather than quantity. “We are not trying to exceed that limit, but we are trying to get everybody out of this Maker Faire with the idea that they should come up with their own idea or project for next year’s event. We want the 10,000 people coming this year to be executors, not only watchers,” adds Alaa.

Yes we can

However, the team stresses that their success was far from an easy journey. “Some of our biggest challenges are logistics-centred; but also related to the economic situation in Egypt right now,” Alaa says. “In terms of financial resources, the Maker Faire is made through sponsorships. As I said, it is not so easy to collect money to have such a huge event; but to try to overcome these financial instabilities we provide premium services such as renting out our machines, having membership packages to join the club itself, renting rooms and machines, and getting access 24 hours a day,” he adds.

“Our main service is working with corporates and NGOs to establish FabLab and Makerspace inside their facilities or train their staff,” adds El Safty. “We also established FabLabs in Saudi Arabia and we are working on establishing one in Kazakhstan”, concludes the 25-year-old entrepreneur with a proud smile.

Photography by @MO4Network's #MO4Productions.

Photographer: Amr Medhat