This was a fun and in depth interview done with industry expert Bill Fienup. Bill Fienup, director and innovation services and co-founder of mHUB. He is a mechanical engineer, product developer and serial entrepreneur who has designed toys for Hasbro and researched fusion energy for Los Alamos National Laboratory. Bill holds both Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Mechanical Engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He was a co-founder and president of Catalyze Chicago, which provided space, equipment, mentorship and community to dozens of early-stage product development entrepreneurs. Before merging into mHUB, Catalyze occupied 8,000 square feet, served close to 200 members who filed 80 patents, raised $21M, generated $57M in revenue and created dozens of new jobs. Bill started his career as a product design consultant for IDEO and Insight Product Development. With deep experience in mechanism design, product development and complex electromechanical systems, Bill shifted from consulting to become an entrepreneur. He started several companies, including Ecofurn and MB Labs, which focused on connected devices. Bill holds 11 patents — including a bandage dispenser, biopsy needle and a NERF Atom Blaster with more pending, including several related to 3D printing. Bill’s reputation as a thought leader extends beyond Chicago. In addition to being a repeat visitor to the White House for topics ranging from international trade to the maker movement, Bill has appeared on national television with his inventions.
Ese: What got you interested in 3D Printing?
Bill: Z Corp. I was involved with them as a freshman in college. I got to work with their powder based system. It utilized binder material along with an inkjet cartridge. It is one of the first 3D Printing processes built. This was before the huge 3D Printing boom. I thought it was amazing, and I knew it would change product development. Rapid iteration was wild. Sanding and model making was how my generation thought of products. We were learning CAD and other cool things as well with our classical mindsets.
Explain your early career experiences and how they lead to where you are currently?
I first started with my job at IDEO. I did about 7 years of product development. It was a good experience. I wanted more upside though. I saw businesses being made. I then decided to quit my job to be an entrepreneur. I was doing a lot of work on my own for a while. I wanted to build a community of like-minded people. I realized I was failing by myself trying to create products. I needed a bigger community. I thought it’d be a great idea to build an incubator. Also business skill sets were needed as well. I understood the struggles so I wanted to help others. I met Haven Allen early on with this similar drive and ambition. That is how we started and are currently at our positions at mHUB.
What are the biggest obstacles with the work you have done for mHUB?
It is an ambitious goal in trying to build this type of space. Getting people behind the mission was also very difficult initially. We launched as a nonprofit so entrepreneurs could grow. That business model is tough though because membership drives our revenue. We want them to grow in our community to the point that they do leave us.
What are some things that you feel are important for the future of additive manufacturing? What are interesting trends in Chicago?
Speed is of utmost importance. Speed has been the barrier to actually making products. Typical machines in the industry are being made with quicker efficiency. People are starting to design with 3D Printing in mind. The shoe industry is very interesting when it comes to these type of developments. 3D printers are now finally getting fast enough to do great work. Unique properties are occurring with the use of 3D printing. It will be vital for industries such as the aerospace industry. Lighter materials are always great. So mostly speed, and people designing products is interesting.
What advice do you have to anyone who is looking to begin their entrepreneurial career?
It is very challenging to do things by yourself. I’d advise people to join an incubator community. A support system of industry expertise is always important. Crowdsourcing is very powerful as well. It is important to have a community. Do not do anything alone. Always look to seek for partnerships. It is critical for your growth.
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