In this edition of Mind Your Own Business, we interview Anupama Gowda, co-founder of Workbench Projects, a makerspace in Bangalore.
Please introduce yourself. Could you tell our readers your role at Workbench Projects?
Anupama Gowda: Pavan Kumar and I are partners in crime who founded Workbench Projects. Pavan (Founder/CEO of Workbench Projects) is an engineer who believes in creating the right conditions for makers and innovators to emerge in India. Today, as one of the leading facilitators in the maker community in the country, Pavan consults for disruptive thinking and ‘makerpreneurship’. He stands committed to the philosophy of the company — building an ecosystem for responsible innovation.
I, on the other hand, trained in the arts and management, and served as an arts educator for nearly a decade before Workbench Projects. Committed to education and empowerment in the developmental sector, I love to create creativity and help forge interesting cross-connections for all makers committed to their practice. I try to keep our work grounded to our vision “to put the power of innovation in every hand”.
How do you two dynamic entrepreneurs make a co-working and makerspace such as yours work?
AG: It has not been easy, I must say. It has worked firstly because it’s highly democratic and diverse. We have at all times been accessible to everyone who has come in with the commitment and determination to share and grow collectively. Collaboration has been our strongest suit, and needless to say, committed and sensitive team members who are makers at heart make Workbench Projects an exceptionally unique place in the city.
What was your main inspiration in starting such a unique project? Has your vision through Workbench Projects materialized or do you still see considerable scope for its growth?
AG: Workbench Projects is an outcome of our own need. A couple of years ago, the two of us embarked on a project for an educational services company to build a unique product for school students. Soon, we realised that we did not have a one-stop space for prototyping in the city. In an emerging market such as ours, it took us one entire year to take our product from the idea stage to testing; what could have been accomplished in a quarter of the time. This was a hard learning experience for us. We knew for a fact that in a city like Bangalore, people yearned to exercise their creative abilities to build, and not having a facility that could nurture their ideas would leave them not just disheartened, but never to invest in them ever. We were clear we didn’t want to let that happen. We started out by simply helping create the necessary conditions for anyone who was willing to take that first step to invest in their idea, hobby or even in a skill that they wanted to acquire.
Starting out in a small garage, from that very day till date, we continue to do just that. Our vision is ambitious, but we are committed, and tirelessly working towards it. We know for a fact that this road is less travelled and always has scope for growth. We’re continually looking to collaborate and incorporate the insights and experiences of others to better our work.
Are there other spaces similar to Workbench Projects in India? Do you think the country needs more co-working spaces?
AG: There are well over sixty co-working spaces in India without too much of a differentiated offering. Workbench Projects is one of five makerspaces / fab labs (fabrication laboratories) in India that provides a co-working space. Needless to say, to serve the growing interest in the field, many more have to appear on the scene.
How does your venture work? Are people of any age allowed to come experiment and tinker around, or do you prefer people of a particular age and background, like a science student or an engineering graduate?
AG: As mentioned earlier, we are demographic-neutral space. We advocate multi-disciplinary collaborative work and hence are always working towards making magic happen in the most unexpected fields of collaboration.
Could you share with us a few interesting and unusual creations that were products of Workbench Projects?
AG: One could see some products of Workbench Projects as market releases in mid-2017. As enablers for product development, the company has facilitated a range of makers. For example, an architect built a tidal wave energy harvester for coastal homes in India. Another group (a veterinary doctor and engineers) built a low-cost digital stethoscope to help doctors listen to heartbeats better. Another team built well-designed, cost-effective mobility aids for physically challenged athletes to compete on a global stage by the disruptive use of cane, as opposed to traditional assistive devices. Projects such as these are increasingly common, resonating with the theme of the space — responsible innovation. One can see a range of products, from hard-core hardware to the Internet of things, being explored at the space everyday.
How aware are the people you have encountered, and the ones who work at Workbench Projects, of the laws in force? What kind of initiatives do you take to increase awareness of the law?
AG: Very few people know the laws in force, especially when it comes to patent law. There is a very high demand that the community we serve gets to know the laws better. I specially mention patents because everyone thinks his/her idea is novel and needs to file for a patent. We have even engaged with patent lawyers in the past, on a case-by-case basis.
Given that the maker community is gradually picking up pace towards the start-up culture, we are currently considering a dedicated monthly slot for law discussions. To begin with, we would initiate day-long sessions, in the future graduating to panel discussions, giving more diverse practitioners the opportunity to address and support the ecosystem. We want this initiative to eventually become an organic feature of the space.
Could you give us three USPs of Workbench Projects that would pique our readers’ interests?
AG: We are a fully-loaded makerspace and fabrication laboratory, we focus on responsible innovation, and we are a hub for makers and innovators.