In 2015, an intriguing new 3D printer company called 3D By Flow emerged with a printer called the Focus, a portable, multi-extruder 3D printer capable of printing in multiple materials including both standard plastic filament and pastes. Although the Kickstarter campaign for the Focus didn’t quite reach its funding goal, the Dutch company, now called byFlow, proceeded to market the printer anyway, and has become an excellent example of how crowdfunding campaigns don’t necessarily make or break a business. Two years later, byFlow is thriving, with production accelerating to meet a goal of selling 100 printers per month by this summer.
In addition, byFlow is working with chocolate company Callebaut to develop a high-quality 3D chocolate printer. It’s a busy time for byFlow, and leading the company is CEO Nina Hoff, who is skillfully managing the business as well as working on some side projects of her own. We got a chance to talk to Hoff recently about those side projects, as well as about byFlow and 3D food printing in general.
Tell us a bit about yourself and your background. How did you come to work in the 3D printing industry?
“I’m 25 years old, and have a Bachelor in Management in Healthcare. I used to work as a Manager, Recruiter and Consultant for Hospitals, Mental Hospitals and Elderly Peoples Homes. When my brother, Floris, asked me to join him to start a 3D Printing Company, it wasn’t hard for me to say: ‘YES.’ I fell in love with the Focus 3D Printer when Floris created his first prototype in a white suitcase. It immediately had the Apple look and feel, and it was the first time that I felt I wanted to try a 3D Printer myself. My dad had a FabLab since 2011, but because the printers looked so bulky and complicated back then, I didn’t feel the urge to use them. Now, with the Focus 3D Printer, I like to search for cool stuff online and 3D Print jewellery, flowerpots or cool wooden glasses myself.
Since September 2015 I joined byFlow and as a CEO I’m responsible for strategy, partnerships, leading the team (of 10 men, sales, marketing, development), finance, Supply Chain Management, etc. Working in a fast growing environment fits me, I love to see our ‘baby grow.’ To find similar young entrepreneurs I joined the Kairos Society in 2016, a global network of young entrepreneurs that are working on finding solutions to help solve world problems. With one of my friends I’m currently trying to inspire young women to join a company in Tech or choose for a studies in technology, therefore we created a platform called: WomenTechTalks. We launched this on April 13th.”
“byFlow has been researching food 3D Printing since 3 years now for several reasons. During the 3D Food Printing Conferences (organised since 2014 by Frits Hoff), we spoke with a lot of different companies in the food industry. From commercial Chocolate 3D Printing to create shapes that are not possible by hand, to food printing in Healthcare for people in Elderly peoples homes. Lots of people don’t know this, but 80% of elderly people living in Elderly peoples homes in The Netherlands alone have swallowing problems. This means they cannot eat the regular food like ‘normal’ people. For them the Healthcare industry created Nutri-drinks, just drinks that contain all the ingredients people need. But what people forget is that eating is very important and all about experience, especially for people that already have to sit or lie down all day. For these people 3D Foodprinting could be an important solution, we can use fresh ingredients which contain lots of nutrition, or even add natural vitamins or minerals, and print this in all shapes in 3D. The ingredients have to be a paste-like material so it’s easy to swallow, but can be printed again in the shape of a tomato or a carrot. Even meat-printing is possible. With Food Ink we launched the World’s first 3D Printed restaurant to show the possibilities and capabilities of Foodprinting with the Focus 3D Printer. This was a great example of how the food of the Future and the Restaurants of the future will possibly look like.”
What other plans does byFlow have for the future, beyond the Focus and the collaboration with Barry Callebaut?
“byFlow is currently focussing on selling and producing as many Focus 3D Printers as possible, the target for this year is selling 1000 Focus 3D Printers. For this we’ve set up the supply chain and speeded up our sales-strategy by involving more resellers and distributors in the sales process. We’ve expanded our team to 10 people. The sales of the Focus 3D Printer is very important to us, we learn why people would 3D print different materials (such as silicone, ceramics, differents clays and food of course), and let us better understand what markets would need a 3D Printer for different materials. With the data we gather we can develop new print-heads and new printing techniques that can fit on the Focus 3D Printer to better serve our customers.
The development of the Chocolate 3D Printer in collaboration with Barry Callebaut was a breakthrough for us, since we cracked the code of chocolate. Chocolate is one of the hardest materials to 3D Print, since you have to take in account that chocolate easily crystallises and blooms. With the printhead we developed both processes can be controlled for the best results.
Eventually byFlow wants to become known for their innovative Foodprinters and experience regarding 3D Food Printing.”
“As a young, female, CEO of a fast growing company in an environment with mainly multinationals around (Philips, ASML, NXP) on the High Tech Campus, I missed sparring mates of my age, being involved in similar businesses. When I found out about the Kairos Society, I found a place where young people from all kind of backgrounds come together, to work on similar ideas, like solving problems in Healthcare & Education, mainly with Technology. Because I have a background in Healthcare and my dad used to be a teacher, these social topics always have had my interest, even now working for a 3D Printing startup. One of our biggest customer segments is Education, from primary school to important Universities. And in Healthcare customers are experimenting with our 3D Printer to print silicone prosthetics. That we can help both students/teachers in Education and doctors/patients in Healthcare fascinates me and is a very interesting part of my job. With people in the Kairos Society I can talk about these topics, but also about solving daily business problems or talk about personal challenges when being young in a competitive and fast growing environment.”
Tell us about your new WomenTechTalks platform. How did it come about, and what are some of your goals?
“We want to ‘re-brand’ technology by dusting off its old industrial image and blow a breath of fresh air in tech. Our community of strong women working in the industry aim to encourage people from all backgrounds to work in tech. Simultaneously we make the industry more accessible, share our expertise and and empower companies to work on their diversity policies. The Women Tech Talks are meant to be a source of inspiration for young women that want to work – or are already working in – Technology Businesses. We provide programs in which women of all disciplines come together to share their experiences and reinforce each other. We also promote role models that undermine stereotypes about technology. We want to become the world leading platform to promote diversity in technology.”
“I love being in a Technical Environment. More than being in a Healthcare Environment. The possibilities of creating and innovating are endless. But I do experience difficulties. Right now I’m one of the few woman on the High Tech Campus (although it’s starting to grow) and in my own Company (only woman), I feel that sometimes I have to work harder or am not taken seriously as a female. Because I don’t have a technical background, men easily think that I do not know what I’m talking about. I’m responsible for Supply chain Management in my company, that means that I’m in contact with all of our suppliers, not only on the negotiation part but also on the quality part. In my role I’m visiting many companies where only men work, and they’re not used to work with women. Sometimes they try to fool me with their prices, or start to talk very technical and try to confuse or scare me, but what they don’t know is that I always prepare myself, I talk to my CTO (Floris Hoff, my brother) and gather as much information as possible, so I know where I’m talking about. I have a coach who used to work for Philips (he is retired but works as a volunteer for byFlow, like the movie the Intern), and with him I talk about negotiating and how to deal with men. But what I think is unfortunate is that all these people that I see as my mentors, are mainly men. I hope that together with Eline we can get more Women involved in Technology and inspire them via our platform WomenTechTalks so that soon I will have female mentors and I can be a mentor for them.”
Despite the challenges, Hoff has carved out a successful place for herself in the 3D printing industry, and hopefully through WomenTechTalks, she’ll be able to help other women carve out places for themselves as well. At only age 25, Hoff has a long career ahead of her, and we look forward to seeing what she accomplishes in the coming months and years. Discuss in the Nina Hoff forum at 3DPB.com.
If you are interested in sharing your story, or know a woman we should get in touch with for this new series, please reach out any time. Send us an email or connect on Twitter. We’re looking forward to sharing more stories about women in 3D printing. Find all the features in this series here.