It's not an exaggeration to say that Samantha Snabes wants to change lives through 3D printing.
Three years ago, she was working at NASA as a strategist and volunteering for Engineers Without Borders at Johnson Space Center. She met NASA engineer Matt Feidler, and they began brainstorming about ways technology could make a difference for people in developing countries.
They landed on the idea of making large-scale 3D printing affordable. What if it could be used to make basic things that communities need: medical devices, tools, even composting toilets?
"We felt that by making a large-format 3D printer and putting it in the hands of people and small business owners around the world, it would give them the ability to sustain their communities and their businesses," Snabes said.
To pursue their idea, they applied to technology incubator Startup Chile and were chosen as one of 105 companies from 1,400 applicants. So they quit their jobs and moved to Santiago, where they researched how 3D printing could address the needs of emerging countries, and built a prototype.
Through the accelerator program, they received a $40,000 grant, and their company, re:3D, was launched in 2013. The company's founders chose to locate in Austin. “When we came back from Chile, we were looking at the services we needed to grow, and a lot of that talent was in Austin,” Snabes said. They rented office space at incubator Capital Factory for a year, meeting business mentors and building a team. They also have offices in Houston.
WHAT THEY DO: Re:3D's flagship product is the Gigabot, a 3D industrial printer that prints items as large as eight cubic feet -- about the size of a washing machine. It costs $9,000 for a kit and $11,000 fully assembled.
So far, the Austin-based company has sold printers to customers in 50 countries. They include the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, NASA (which has five) and the Federal Aviation Administration. Universities that have purchased Gigabots include the the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine, the University of Texas and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Other customers range from artists to architects to small business owners.For every 100 Gigabots that re:3D delivers, it gives one away to a group dedicated to improving their community. Recipients include the Tunapanda Institute of Kenya, which is using the Gigabot to help young people learn technical and business skills.
WHO THEY ARE: Snabes worked as a research associate with Aastrom Biosciences, and founded BioFlow Technology, which built a device to allow stem cells to grow. Prior to founding re:3D, she was a strategist in Space Life Sciences at the NASA Human Health and Performance Center, and a NASA social entrepreneur in residence.
Feidler most recently worked at Johnson Space Center as a researcher in its neuroscience lab, where he studied posture and sensory motion performance in astronauts during and after space flight.
Other re:3D founding team members include Katy Jeremko, a former NASA designer in residence, and Chris Gerty, a NASA engineer and technologist.
INVESTMENT: In addition to the $40,000 that re:3D received from Startup Chile, the company has raised $300,000 through Kickstarter campaigns. It so received a $150,000 convertible note from Indie.vc, which backs startups that don't fit the traditional venture capital model.
THE COMPETITIVE EDGE: There are plenty of standard 3D printers on the market. Snabes says what sets the Gigabot apart from competitors is its price tag -- which is one-tenth the cost of other industrial printers -- and its ability to build things that are 30 times the volume of a standard desktop model.
BIGGEST CHALLENGE: Snabes says the biggest challenge is setting re:3D apart from the many other makers of 3D printers. The 20-person company hasn't had the ability to make a big marketing push.
"We're scrappy, and we don't have the time or the money," she said. "Most of our sales are inbound, people hear about us by word-of-mouth and find us. We'd like to be more visible and more active in the 3D printing community. That's the challenge."
About this series:
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