Brazilian maker space WE FAB: translators for corporations and makers
An ongoing theme throughout our Strategy Tour is the growing influence of the maker movement on various industries around the world. We’ve toured spaces like Maker Media in San Francisco, schools, government endeavors to spur economic development, and maker-driven startups like Seeed Studio in Shenzhen, military collaborations with Fab Lab, and more.
In São Paulo, we will extend our examination of the maker movement with a visit to WE FAB and workshop with co-founders Heloisa Neves and Fabien Eychenne. WE FAB is partnering with some of Brazil’s most established companies like Natura to build maker culture and drive open source strategies.
For additional context, we’ll visit Natura’s headquarters to understand how one of Brazil’s largest cosmetics companies has committed to a sustainable and network-driven approach to the Amazon community from which it sources it’s ingredients and dispersed direct sales team.
Heloisa was kind enough to answer our questions about her organization and their connection with the Brazil business community.
What is WE FAB?
WE FAB is a small company that connects makers and big business. We believe both sides sides can benefit from meeting.
On one hand, the maker movement has practices, like early prototyping, collaboration, agility, bottom-up innovation, low cost etc. that can be used by big companies. It can be as intangible as changing a mindset by quickly materializing ideas through collaboration and low fidelity prototypes. On the other hand, while makers are good at addressing niche products or markets, they lack knowledge in scaling, customer services, and most generally securing a supply chain.
Our mission is to offer a platform where both entities can collaborate in a smooth and seamless way. This platform has materialized as a prototyping lab with digital fabrication machines like a laser cutter, 3D printers, small CNC, electronics bench, etc. A modular creative space is also available for the early prototype sprint phase.
Tell us about the origins of WE FAB — how did you come up with the idea?
WE FAB’s roots come from the Fab Lab movement. Both WE FAB co-founders were involved in Fab Labs creation in Paris and São Paulo and worked with big companies like Natura and Renault. We believe Fab Labs play a tremendous role in democratizing digital fabrication and materializing ideas to a creative public, and more generally, what we would call makers. Nevertheless, companies and in particular big companies, are not yet part of this new ecosystem. Several challenges like horizontality, IP in a deep open innovation process, early “dirty” prototype, user-centered design, open-source and open-hardware, which are common practices in this world can scare, or at least cause skepticism in companies that would like to be involved in the Maker Movement. As our experience covers both worlds, we believe there is some space for “translators” who could help build fruitful connexions.
You are working with Natura, which has been one of Brazil’s game-changing companies within the past few decades. What can you tell us about the projects you’ve been working on with them and how the WE FAB model has come into play?
We can talk of two projects which are today public. Natura organized a makethon with the help of the MIT Media Lab and Ideo. Over the course of a week, pre-selected student’s ideas were turned into prototypes. We set up a temporary Fab Lab to help Brazilians, Medial labs students, end users, and Natura employees to collaboratively and quickly prototype and test their ideas. Natura had a good experience with open-innovation and this makethon explored new subjects like customization and connected health.
One of the ideas that emerged was to test customized soap. A CNC with a small mill was imagined. Of course, working with CNC machines is not Natura core business. We Fab helped them to connect to the maker movement world. The first working prototype is able to load an image and carve it into a bar of soap. The feasibility was demonstrated at low cost and in a short amount of time.
In your opinion, what are some of the biggest opportunities for innovation in Brazil? What can the rest of the world learn from what’s happening there?
One of the biggest opportunities for innovation is Brazilian’s creativity and agility. One of the WE FAB cofounders is European and has been amazed by the way Brazilians are problem solving people. We organized a sprint (2-days of intensive work to materialize ideas) to create an open-source hardware audio guide. What would have been over-planned and taken a lot of time to start in Europe was quickly discussed and materialized in a early prototype. Most of the people that showed up did not know each other but worked together as small teams in an agile ways. From a point of view of an European, something which could have been taken for chaotic and unprepared was in reality creativity and agility.