We’ve heard a lot from Mcor Technologies over the last several years as the company with its unique paper-based 3D printing system offers an environmentally friendly take on the technology that you just don’t see every day. From the Mcor ARKe’s introduction and reengineering last year to talking to the team in the UK and seeing the full-color 3D printer in action in LA, we’ve been keeping up with the Ireland-based company for some time now. Applications for their technologies range from healthcare to automotive to architecture to presidential — and we hear about it all largely thanks to the steadfast efforts of one woman.
Deirdre MacCormack is the Chief Marketing Officer at Mcor, a position she has held since 2006. I’ve had the opportunity to meet and speak with her before, and she is every inch a wonder woman in this industry, bringing a keen sense of intelligence and a drive to be truly admired. Her experience and insights are extensive, and we are fortunate today to place her in the spotlight as 3DPrint.com continues to highlight women in this industry.
When did you first learn about 3D printing?
“When your husband is an engineer/inventor you are usually privy to the most interesting technologies around! Being exposed to the latest technologies becomes a way of life. But more than that Conor (and his brother Fintan) had always been ‘inventing’, sketching out new ideas and brainstorming the next big thing. Following his PhD in the early 2000s Conor was working in Trinity College and on a European project involving the A380 -during this time he had a lot of exposure to 3D printing. So, when he identified a ‘problem’ in the 3D printing market – here we have a technology which was around for over 30 years but had remained niche and exclusively in the hands of large companies and big universities and had not filtered down into more of a mass market – this peaked my interest! So why the problem? Running costs – the materials used in these 3D printers at the time were as expensive as gold! His idea involved producing a printer with zero running costs, or as close as possible to this to give proper access to a greater audience.When Conor first introduced me to the concept I was hooked. And when he told me about his idea to produce a printer with extremely low running costs I was very excited – with my marketing hat on I could see the gap in the market for sure. I proceeded with some primary market research and this verified that if we could build it they would come!For us it was more than a business idea it was a chance to make a difference because the market needed disrupting and the potential to really change the 3D printing world was huge.”
Can you tell us briefly about your educational/professional background and what led you to consider 3D printing from an entrepreneurial standpoint as a viable business decision?
At Mcor, you have been behind the release of three flagship products; can you tell us about your experience in positioning the company for visibility with each launch? What makes for an appealing 3D printer launch?
“I hold a Bachelor of Arts degree in Marketing and a Masters of Science in Advertising. After my degree, I gained transatlantic experience with companies such as Panavision New York and Golden Books Entertainment while based in New York. I also worked with companies such as Carlsberg, Vodafone and Cadburys in a variety of marketing roles.
Truth be known I was born with an entrepreneurial streak – my Father managed his own business for over 50 years and I was always inspired by his vision, drive and work ethic. I love the idea of starting something from scratch and nurturing, building it up and making a difference. I spent my summers in between college years in the US working – managing a small business that was very profitable – I seen the power of an opportunity, drive and a good work ethic – I was hungry for more!
So when Conor presented his idea for a 3D printer to me I felt this could be the idea that we would drive all the way. I conducted market research in Ireland, US and the UK. The results were overwhelming – there positively was a need and desire for a paper based printer (some of the respondents in this research become our first customers!). Conor and Fintan worked on the concept for about two years part time – and when I talk about our first in-house machine, well it was actually in my house! Although I am not technical I was immersed in every step of the product development. We then came to a fork in the road – do we leave our jobs and do this full time?
I was pregnant with my second child at the time and I said to Conor, ‘let’s go for it’ – it was a gamble, we were leaving good, well paid jobs, raising debt and entering the unknown! But armed with a vision of bringing professional-quality 3D printing to the masses. I often say I have a sort of ‘irrational optimism’ which sees far beyond any problems and to the end goal.”
“At Mcor I was the ‘only’ woman for a long time but I was always responsible for more than just marketing – I wore many hats in the early days! But when it came to marketing this was entirely my baby. However, I operate in a male dominated industry but not only that it is heavily engineering driven and engineers don’t necessarily believe in marketing so you can only imagine trying to convince my colleagues of the importance of marketing. BUT having a product is only half of the journey in business – as Guy Kawasaki said, ‘If you don’t toot your own horn, don’t complain that there’s no music.’ Well I certainly set about tooting our horn and making music!
The Mcor Matrix
We had been working in stealth mode for a few years before the official launch of our first product, the Mcor Matrix. I knew that we had a very unique offering and positioning this product was all about ‘telling the story’. And bearing in mind that in these early days of the business resources were scarce but it was essential that Mcor made an immediate impact in a marketplace dominated by two main players. So, at TCT 2008 we took a small stand, divided it in two and implemented some guerrilla marketing tactics – pre-registration was required in order to see the printer – I dropped pre-registration cards in the main hotel and asked the receptionist to put these in each paper delivered to all the delegates rooms on the first day of the show. Hey Presto – this created the hype I was looking for and the Matrix was the printer everyone was talking about! I also issued a press release and we received our first coverage. But even better these column inches induced 2 million hits on our website in 10 days which crashed our server! But the sales inquiries followed, 1000s of them – from Boeing to IBM but we had yet to get full production in place!
The Mcor IRIS
We pre-launched the Mcor IRIS at RAPID 2012 – at this event we were awarded the Best Exhibitor Innovation Award by the Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME) beating off Stratasys for their Mojo and 3D Systems for their ProJet 850. This gave great credibility to what we were doing – it has always been a David and Goliath situation and we have always punched above our weight!
We officially launched the Mcor IRIS later that year at EuroMold 2012 – this was equally as exciting because at that time there was only one other manufacturer offering full colour. Not only that but the IRIS was offering the highest quality colour at a low cost and with full eco-friendly credentials. This launch was coupled with news of our partnership with Staples and there was an explosion of interest in the IRIS – again we were inundated!
The Mcor ARKe
We launched the Mcor ARKe at CES 2016 – the world’s first full colour desktop 3D printer. Again we won Best of Innovation for this product which gave us winner status straight out of the blocks. The coverage at this launch was again phenomenal with Fortune magazine taking the exclusive.
Having a unique product offering has always helped to position our products in a very powerful way – subsequently the innovation has been rewarded, coverage is widespread and demand is abundant. I have not always had a big marketing budget so I had to be resourceful and creative with what I had – I think this paid off and created edgy marketing campaigns that helped us stand out – we have won a couple of marketing awards too which recognise this most notably the 3D Print Show Brand award.”
As a C-level executive in the industry, do you feel your daily experience is at all substantively different from those of men in similar positions?
“Firstly, I feel my experience in this industry at C-level might be slightly different than others rising through the ranks at other companies. I am a founder, I left a well-paid professional job to set up a start up. My route to C-level in Mcor was certainly different but not without challenges.On our journey over the last 12 years I have encountered prejudice because I am female and related to the other founders. Investors, bankers and board members can all be sceptical of your ability, viewing that you are there on a free ride. If anything, I have worked harder because I am always justifying my worth and my position. But I have always been keen to promote females in industry and so I am part of two women’s networks – the WXN Executive Network and Women in Business. These groups are inspiring and make you realise that together we are strong and can do a lot to motivate women to keep striving for more.These groups also host awards for women in business and I have been lucky enough to be the recipient of a few awards including a Silver Stevie Award for Women in Business, in the category of Female Executive of the Year – Business Products. This can only help inspire young women in this industry and others to keep pushing – I like to quote Yoda here – ‘Do. Or do not. There is no try.’
Having said all that, I believe the media have often been forthcoming at hearing my voice – I have been asked to participate on panels and interviews in a bid to show diversity. We need to see more of this so that’s why this interview is a great opportunity to see what we women are doing and what we are capable of!”
Starting younger in life seems to be key to engaging more women in STEM fields; what do you see as a path to more girls becoming interested in more technical subjects?
What are your thoughts on the use of stereotypically “girly” approaches to appealing to girls to get into STEM (e.g., use of the color pink)?
“Yes, starting early is the key so the focus should be on our education system. There is much talk about STEM but I will add to this by suggesting that we should be looking at adding ‘A’ (arts) – STEAM which produces more meaningful interdisciplinary experiences, the best way to nurture the next generation of leaders in creativity and innovation that is inclusive to women.
Ultimately, STEAM is people-centric, not subject-centric; it puts student personality and individuality at the forefront not necessarily their gender. With STEAM, the pressure is off to become a scientist or engineer, labels which can be off putting to some girls —you can be a designer, digital artist, coder, art director, and scientist and engineer all at the same time. STEAM says we can be better engineers by learning how to think artistically, and we can re-engage artists with science by letting them see how STEM can work in the arts. It’s infinitely more exciting, especially in an increasingly interdisciplinary and digital world. In STEAM, creativity is the central tenet. It not only revives and modernizes STEM, it actually addresses, through real-world projects, why the STEM subjects should matter to everyone including girls.
Of course, by introducing innovative technology into classrooms that enables students to engage in a creative, technical and personalized classroom environment will help enormously. I believe that by breaking down our subject-based silos through technology, we can foster a greater culture of creativity, independent thinking and innovation which is not gender centric.
In addition, we need to be asking the right questions. I remember Conor giving a talk to a group of students and posing the question— ‘How many of you would like to become an engineer?’ A trickle of hands went up but it made me wonder—what would have happened if he had asked, ‘How many of you would like to invent something that could change the world?’ I reckon more hands would have shot up including girls. So, asking the right questions is very important.”
“I think there will be a percentage of girls that will just be interested in STEM subjects and won’t need encouragement but there are others on the fringe that could be persuaded.
As outlined in the previous question, adding ‘Art’ to STEM could help to bring more girls (and boys) into careers in innovation and technology. It will stop pigeon holing and will promote a more open approach to education.
This does not necessarily mean the pinkification process – it’s more about broadening the options to make it more inclusive full stop. In a recent focus group study, which we conducted, it was suggested that the addition of colour capability in 3D printing would potentially attract girls – this is not necessarily gender stereotyping, it is about pushing the boundaries in order to increase appeal to girls.
CoderDojo, Girls in Tech, I wish, Girls who Code and WISE are just some organisations that are promoting girls in technology roles – this will certainly help with encouraging girls in tech careers but it may be a few years before we see the fruits of this.
It is clear that we need to continue to think outside of the box here to find a way to get girls more interested in STEM.”
Women, yourself included, are appearing more frequently on panels at 3D printing-focused events; how do you see this upward trend affecting industry participation?
“In the 12 years that I have been involved in the 3D printing industry I can safely say that I have been the only woman in the room on many occasions! Gladly this is changing slowly as the industry matures.
Having key women in senior leadership roles in 3D printing and on panels will positively encourage other females to join 3D printing organisations. We also need more women on boards – this is the seat of power and visibility in these positions will stimulate more activity and promotion.
Certainly, getting more women into tech roles will help break the cycle of a male dominated industry and fill the STEM talent demand. To do this we need more female role models to encourage and inspire!”
What do you see as the biggest challenges to diversity in the 3D printing industry?
“Simply the lack of women going into tech – only 7% of tech positions in Europe are filled by women. And while more women are working today less are working in technology. And it’s not all about technical skills, the general make up of staff across all roles show an overwhelming male majority.
So, where are all the women?
The biggest challenge here is the falling trend of females taking up science, maths and computing courses. Despite doing better than their male counterparts in the STEM subjects in early education less females opt for technical courses at university. If they do take the course they are outnumbered leading to intimidation and drop outs. This leads to a gender biased talent pool to recruit from and so the cycle persists.
Does this hark back to the pinkification of girls in early age? Toys, clothes and job possibilities are still marketed towards either gender, despite recent developments in breaking this historic trend. We need to stop this cycle once and for all.
In fact, we might have a chance with the 3D printing industry to change all this – for example introducing a 3D printer in the classroom might just get a girl interested in STEM subjects. 3D printing really does have the power to cause a revolution in the classroom by disrupting the teaching process and attracting diversity to STEM.
In turn the 3D printing industry could lead the way in being more diverse in who it attracts!”
The biggest benefits to a more diverse workforce?
This also goes beyond gender, it’s about a diversity of skills, management styles and viewpoints that champions a business to the next level. In my own experience, it was the blend of engineering, entrepreneurship and marketing that helped Mcor get off the ground – would not have worked if any of the ingredients were missing.So any company adverse to adding diversity to their organisation are not being the ‘best’ that they can be for sure.”“There are countless reports that stipulate that gender diversity can only benefit a company. For example, gender diverse R & D teams lead to greater creativity and better decisions. And businesses with a woman on the executive team are more likely to have higher valuations at both first and last funding. Other statistics would suggest that the number of Fortune 500 companies with the highest representation female board directors outperform those with the lowest representation on the board.
What would you want to tell girls considering the pursuit of studying STEM areas? What about women interested in working in 3D printing?
“For girls considering the pursuit of studying STEM –
- Don’t be afraid to be different – From an early age the gender stereotype of boys being better at science, maths can discourage girls from studying STEM subjects. I would like to tell girls that they are just as good at these subjects as boys. Don’t be afraid to be different even if your friends are choosing other subjects.
- Your country needs you – I would tell them to that the tech sector needs more women studying, working and sticking with tech skills to ensure that there’s enough talent for the future. Your country needs you!
- You will have the power to change the world – I would tell them that a career based on a STEM qualification will empower you to change the world. These subjects are the stepping stones to innovation, invention and creating tomorrows world.
- Don’t worry about what you don’t know – I would tell them not to worry about what they don’t know as this could lead you to that which differentiates you. The inquisitive mind finds problems and solves them. Fail faster and reach a solution!
- Don’t be afraid of hard work – Thomas Edison said that, “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” Girls should note that studying STEM is not easy but it can lead to great things.
- Don’t view other girls as your competition – I would tell them that they are not in competition with other girls. You are competing with everyone. Too many girls can get caught up with their female peers and not their class as a whole. This is too narrow a perspective – girls you need to think big!
For women interested in working in 3D printing –
- You are in an industry that will certainly make a difference – 3D printing is an exciting industry – it’s a tech that can and will continue to make a difference so you can too.
- Make the job your own – Because 3D printing is an evolving tech there is the opportunity to make a job your own. If you bring your skill set to this high growth industry you could have an impact on the future.
- So many ways to get involved – There are opportunities in design, engineering, manufacturing, personal 3D printing, education and biotechnology – just pick one!
- It’s like family – The 3D printing industry is like a big family – you will meet the same people on the circuit all the time, form relationships, network and do good business. There is a feel-good factor to this business!
- We need more women – It would be great if the 3D printing industry could lead the way in exhibiting progression in diversity in tech. We will have strength in numbers so join us now!”
The advice and insights that Deirdre MacCormack offers us rings true to experience. Many thanks to Deirdre for taking the time to offer so thorough a look behind this curtain. She’s also quite right in that this industry is like a family — and one that needs more women!
Discuss in the Deirdre MacCormack forum at 3DPB.com.
Conversations like these are, we feel, very important in this industry, and we look forward to continuing to put the spotlight on women working across the 3D printing world in this ongoing series. If you are interested in sharing your story, or know a woman we should get in touch with, please reach out any time. Send me an email or connect on Twitter or LinkedIn. We’re looking forward to sharing your stories. Find all the features in this series here.