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How This Company Is Helping Entrepreneurs Use 3-D Printing

How This Company Is Helping Entrepreneurs Use 3-D Printing

The future is now: Inside the new 3D Printer Experience.

Image credit: Kevin Antnen
This story appears in the March 2015 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »
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Chicago’s 3D Printer Experience is aptly named: It aims to educate and engage the public by offering a relaxed setting to learn about a beneficial new technology, as well as playful activities like the ability to scan and print one’s own head.  

Founded as an LLC in late 2012 and converted to a benefit corporation in 2014, the 3D Printer Experience offers design and manufacturing services for both first-time and experienced entrepreneurs. Founder and CEO Julie Friedman Steele walked us through the process. 

Who is your ideal client?

People who are driven by new ideas. We like to see clients who are ready to embrace change. Because not only do we focus on 3-D printing as a democratizing agent of manufacturing, but also on the effects of other futurist and open mindsets. The accelerating rate of technology is affecting our world in ways that most people aren’t even thinking about. Those things are going to radically change our world, and we want to make sure that as many people as possible get to be a part of that and understand what’s happening. 

My favorite ones are always the social entrepreneurs; not only are we helping them, but we are also making a difference in the lives of others. One company, Portapure, worked with us to create a piece of a water bottle with a filter inside to provide clean drinking water to people in Haiti.

Julie Friedman Steele
Photo courtesy of 3dpx

Which of 3D Printer Experience’s services might be of specific interest to entrepreneurs?

We offer consulting, which involves project feasibility and recommendations. We offer design and manufacturing. We have industrial-grade 3-D printing and laser sintering capabilities in-house. And we offer continuing education and private events. Our site functions as a full-service event space during hours not open to the public. Entrepreneurs love to have a place available to them that isn’t a typical banquet facility and to be around future technologies.

Through our experiences, education, and ideation sessions, we work with many entrepreneurs to understand not only how 3-D printing functions today, but how it will impact our future as well. After working with us, most of our clients come back with even better ideas. Also, we are very encouraging to first-time entrepreneurs by supporting their ideas and by teaching them how to use 3-D printing to develop their concepts. My favorite thing to tell them is how 3-D printing is democratizing manufacturing. This means that they have the same access that large corporations have. 

Supply and demand: A sample of the variety of materials that can be used in 3-D printing.
Photo (C) Kevin Antnen

How do your design services work?

We take an individualized approach with our clients and are willing to go back and forth to ensure that the finished object exceeds their expectations. The steps we follow include ideation, 3-D modeling, prototyping, manufacturing and post-processing.

Many clients are very sensitive about their intellectual property, and we make sure they get to keep that. We are in the business of helping them succeed, not putting up roadblocks that would prevent them from seeing their vision come to life.

Is there anything about 3-D printing that you wish more entrepreneurs understood?

I want more entrepreneurs to know that they can raise funds through means like crowdfunding and compete with the big guys. It’s hysterical to me to see publicly traded companies putting their projects on crowdfunding sites masquerading as independent entrepreneurs. However, it’s also very telling that there is slowly becoming very little difference between them and any entrepreneur with a new idea.

I also let entrepreneurs know that if they love what they do, they don’t need to have an exit strategy. It’s possible now to launch financially sustainable businesses on their own and make an impact on the world. 

Edition: November 2016

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