Photo: Andrew Finkle keeps his Discov3ry extruder demo going non-stop.


This three-minute time-lapse video by Darin White covers 1.75 hours of activity in Structur3D Printing’s booth at Maker Faire Bay Area. The maker movement’s flagship event attracted 130,000 people May 17-18.

SAN MATEO, CALIF.

“How is it going?” I asked Structur3D Printing’s co-founder Andrew Finkle, after pushing through a massive crowd in the Start Up Pavilion at Maker Faire Bay Area on May 17. “Intense” was his answer as he busily tended the Discov3ry extruder’s paste-printing designs, made from everything from silicone to Nutella, to the delight of the more than 130,000 attendees at the weekend event.

My second question went to co-founder Charles Mire: “Are you hitting your goals for pre-crowdfunding exposure?” The answer was an enthusiastic, “We’re blowing them away.”

HYPERDRIVE Cohort 4 startup Structur3D Printing surfed an ideal alignment of product development, community support and good timing to win a spot among compelling startup companies at Maker Faire who were looking to connect directly to potential customers and investors. The shoulder-to-shoulder, non-stop crush at their booth, and the 1,100-plus email addresses they collected, confirmed their belief that this West Coast field trip was a home run.

With 3D printing regularly appearing in mainstream media, it was no surprise to find dozens of vendors and hobbyists at the show hawking their printers and services. While most involved printing rigid plastic or thermoplastic elastomer (a flexible plastic), only three vendors printed paste materials. Among those three, Structur3D Printing was the only one with a robust, commercial-ready design that tackled a broad range of applications and pastes.

When I checked back with Finkle and Mire later in the afternoon on Day 1 of the Faire, I found an uneaten lunch, big smiles, and a still-unending stream of curious visitors crowding their booth. Finkle noted they had not had three free minutes all day, and that was the best possible outcome.

The extruder demo and sample sharing continued into the evening until 8 p.m., but the day was far from over. Once attendees went home, the pair needed to prepare for Day 2 of the Faire, network with other makers and make time for an interview (see below) over a late dinner and drinks.

The second day fed an equally-steady stream of makers to the Structur3D Printing booth, wrapping up a successful and strategic investment for this young Canadian company. I felt a sense of local pride as I watched a hometown team excel among the best makers in North America, and I’m sure many more wins await them.

DW – What are your first impressions of Maker Faire?

CM: Blown away. Blown away beyond all expectations. Very, very good. It was everything we’d hoped it to be and more.

DW – This is the first time for both of you here?

CM/AF – Yes.

DW – Who put you on to this event?

CM – Actually, it was us. We knew this was our target audience, so we wanted to do this. We applied and got accepted as a startup sponsor.

AF – We had been looking at the local ones in and around us and we said, ‘What the hell, let’s go for San Francisco.’

DW – Had you talked to people who have been out here?

CM – Not really, no. We knew it was a big event, so it was one of those things where if we were going to go big, it would go big. Or, if people didn’t like our product, we would get a lot of very honest criticism, so it would give us the much stronger validation for our product and the market, which is what we wanted to feel confident about in launching it.

DW – Are there any course corrections based on the feedback you got from the crowd today?

AF – One of the things is there is a huge market for someone who wants the complete paste printer, already together. So, probably after we do our initial Kickstarter, [we’ll likely do] some kind of either partnership or licensing or get it out there as a complete product. There were definitely people who wanted our demo unit today, [saying] “Don’t take it home. Leave it with me.”

DW – The demo gods are always against us, so how did your rig hold up for demos?

CM – Beautifully.

AF – No problem. When we filmed the Kickstarter video, we did four locations in a day, no problems, and that was a good test run. Today it was very calm; [we] got the print going, everything was streamlined.

DW – Are you hitting your goals for the imminent crowdfunding campaign?

AF – I think so. This was the best-case scenario that I envisioned. That’s what we hit today.

CM – Our jar of people who wanted to be on the mailing list is crammed full, and it’s going to get double-full tomorrow.

AF – We had more people today tell us that they were going to buy our product [and] that pushed us really close to what we’re aiming for as our goal. Just verbal commitment.

DW – You guys are looking to get 100 units out through your crowdfunding, is that right?

CM – That’s the initial goal, yes; 100 units, so it’s a very modest goal. We believe it’s going to be a lot more successful, but we didn’t want to set ourselves up where we’re going to raise $100,000 and suddenly we don’t quite make it and get, like, $95,000 or something, so we set a very modest goal.

AF – We’ve also been speculating on a lot of stretch goals as well. So we’ll have our $30K goal and a $60K and a $90K kind of thing as well. I personally believe our success will be more than $30K, but that’s our comfortable position.

DW – The timing seems right for Structur3D Printing at Maker Faire.

CM – And our company development. Yes. Very interesting serendipity.

DW – Is there anything that has surprised you in terms of the journey so far, not just in Maker Faire, but in getting to this point from “go”?

AF – The support of the community has been unreal. We did this thing and we’re kind of nervous; we have this idea, ‘Let’s go do it’, and then everyone is championing us and supporting us. That’s been amazing. [People have been] offering support for anything and everything, which has been beyond belief.

CM – The very solid, positive reception for our product.

DW – Did you have some uncertainty?

CM – We weren’t really sure. We certainly like printing with paste materials; there’s potential, so we hoped by showing off the samples and what’s possible that people would get their imaginations all fired up by seeing what we’re doing.

AF – It was almost a disbelief that it hasn’t been done. It’s like, “Why isn’t this already here?”

DW – We’re looking at a huge show here and we’ve only got two paste printers represented, and I’m not sure what the angle on the PancakeBot is, but Structur3D Printing seems broader.

AF – And that’s one of the things we’re looking to see out of Maker Faire: What are people really interested in printing? Is it the food? Is it the science-y stuff? The artistic capabilities?

CM – What we’re finding is people are interested in everything. They want to do food, so they like that. They want to do silicone. They like that. They’re thinking ceramics. They like that.

AF – And that’s confirming our business plan. They kind of forced us [to answer], “Are you doing B-to-B or B-to-C? And we’re doing both and it took a lot of talking and we came up with B-to-M, business-to-makers. These are hobbyists who do this in their basement and then say, “I need to bring this to my job”; to create something with this; to start a company. We had that vision and this confirmed that. It’s the creative types we’re aiming for, whether that’s in business or for personal use.

DW – It seems like there’s a community within this space of 3D printing. That’s what I’m noticing, especially when I talk to a guy like Kwartzlab’s James Bastow. People know each other and are aware of the development of various products. What’s interesting about Structur3D Printing is you guys are a business. This isn’t a hobby.

AF/CM – Yes.

AF – And still with the vision of enabling. We’re pushing the experiment and exploring the capabilities. That was the idea behind the name [of the product]  “Discov3ry”. We want to see what other people are going to put through this machine. We want them to push it to the limits and see what is possible with this platform.

CM – We also had a lot of people approach us. They were extremely impressed by the product, and they don’t even have a 3D printer and they love the product, and now they’re getting even more interested in 3D printing, because it’s not just plastic any more. So that’s really resonating with a lot of people who are on the fence about exploring this area.

DW – And maybe they can see the application for this whereas they couldn’t before, printing in hard plastics, but if you can, say, print icing, OK, now you have my attention.

CM – It’s inexpensive. You don’t have to buy it on the Internet. If it messes up, no big deal.

DW – Any other thoughts?

CM – [To] any other hardware company that is going to launch a product at Maker Faire, make sure it’s an interactive product, and engage the audience, and be prepared to be exhausted.