Spearhead of the Brazilian fablab movement, Garagem was born in Sao Paulo in 2013 as a company, and has since developed an original platform model for innovative projects. Mid-February, Garagem sets up its first “Biohack Academy”, in partnership with the Dutch fablab of the Waag Society.
Sao Paulo from our correspondent
First fablab opened in Sao Paulo in June 2013, the Garagem Fab Lab is today the figurehead of the Brazilian fablab movement. It acts as a big brother figure for new places. Even though it is a success today, Eduardo Lopes, its director, told us that it took more than three years from the initial desire to set up an open place, get the keys, build a community and generate enough revenue to pay a minimum wage to the different participants.
This architect remembers how he discovered the fablab concept. “I am an architect with a passion for complex shapes, made possible with 3D modelling software such as Rhino. The problem is that what I like to do in architecture is hard to apply to the reality of present construction. 3, 4 years ago, in Brazil, one started to talk about digital command machines and 3D printing; tools that could address my issues. This new equipment was then very seldom used in architecture studios, but the university of Sao Paulo acquired that equipment for its department of architecture. One year later, they opened an “internal” lab and organised a workshop. I saw there the bridge that could link my two passions.” The University of Sao Paulo fablab, born shortly before Garagem, is however closed to the public.
From the creation of the 3D printer to the fablab
During this workshop, Eduardo meets other people like him, very motivated by the fablab concept and wanting to set one up in So Paulo. We talked about this in a previous article: custom duties multiply by two the price of foreign digital command machines, which make the equipment of a lab costly. It makes it difficult in this case to set up a fully equipped fablab. Garagem, at first, went for 3D printing and the creation of open source 3D printers for the Brazilian market as a start-up.
The choice of this company status addressed several local issues: access to public subsidies, very complicated for small structures, and accounting management for associations with little flexibility. All the “independent” Brazilian fablabs from the Fablabs.io list are supported by companies, which can seem surprising for Europeans. Beyond the reasons given above, it seems that the entrepreneurial spirit is much more present in Brazil, in certain ways closer to the North-American mentality than the European mentality. Incidentally, Eduardo and his partners invested all their personal savings in this project and seeked private funding.
Even though the development activity of a local 3D printer is no longer relevant today, it allowed Garagem to equip itself with the digital command machines of a classic fablab and open its doors to the public.
The fablab as a platform
For Eduardo, “the fablab is an ecosystem with people coming from God knows where. In a town with 20 millions inhabitants, there are many interesting people. They are looking for places to exchange. We have become the place where these people come and knock on the door.” According to Eduardo, nearly half of the participants are designers. A few architects, engineers and people coming from various technical backgrounds such as SENAIs are to be found. A well-educated and trained group of people if one compares it to the Brazilian population, where only 14% of the 25-34 year olds have a university degree (compared to 45% in France). The first collective projects were rather technical, geared towards the creation of machines, but it was the Bike de Quinta open source bicycle project that brought numerous media and thus multiplied the number of visitors. Those visitors gradually became users.
For Eduardo, here is where lies the worth of the project. “ We thought we could make the people pay to keep the place up and running, but it was not the case. We realised they were the worth of our lab. Today, we are working with them to address company and community offers.” Eduardo carries an interesting vision of the fablab as a platform. The lab helps its users, entrepreneurs, to develop projects incubated at Garagem, by giving them support to find funding, visibility, etc. The objective is to create spin-offs within Garagem that would finance the opening of the place for all and for free in exchange of the use of the place and the support of its community. Several projects and companies led by its members are today active: one member uses the place for night trainings on Rhino, workshops are organised over the week-end around the construction of Primo, those cubes for teaching children to code, a start-up creates mini-mes in 3D… By way of compensation, a share of the profits realised is re-injected in the fablab.
But it is today a school project, assembling the numerous creative formations supported by the community, which is at the core of the Garagem reflection. The cornerstone will be laid: the creation of a Biohack Academy in partnership with the Amsterdam fablab of the Waag Society that starts mid-February.