Dream 3D Printing Unicorns: Meet Our Soonicorns

Formnext Germany

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As entire industries incorporate new technologies aiming to build fully automated and digitized economies, the adoption of additive manufacturing (AM) is bound to pick up shortly. So far, in 2021 alone, U.S. venture capital (VC) firms have invested a record $140 billion into startups, on track to surpass the $200 billion plateau for the year, according to the latest EY VC activity report. Additive manufacturing (AM) startups are also reaping the benefits of the record-setting billions raised. In fact, the cash infusion into 3D printing manufacturers, service providers, and AM material experts could lead several 3D printing startups to join the unicorn herd.

Reaching the coveted mythical $1 billion future for these soon-to-be-unicorns, or soonicorns for short, means startups would join well-known unicorns like Formlabs, a Boston-based 3D printer manufacturer born out of MIT Media Lab; Carbon, a California company that created ultra-quick Continuous Liquid Interface Production (CLIP) technology; and Desktop Metal (DM), one of the fastest companies in U.S. history to achieve unicorn status. By December 2020, just three years later, DM began trading publicly on the New York Stock Exchange, the company is now valued at more than $2.5 billion.

With over 750 private unicorn companies valued at $1 billion, venture capitalists and entrepreneurs are on the lookout for the next billion-dollar companies. Inspired by the success story of the three 3D printing unicorns, we’ve compiled a list of promising 3D printing startups that could eventually turn into unicorns and help drive the industry forward in the next decade.

Here, we continue to think creatively about what kinds of options are out there. Our broader list also included Xometry, Fathom, and Oqton as soonicorns. However, Xometry has recently gone public and will soon be followed by Fathom sometime in the second half of 2021, while 3D Systems acquired Oqton on September 9, 2021.


The XJet SMART system for automated post-processing of ceramic AM parts. The XJet SMART system for automated post-processing of ceramic AM parts. Image courtesy of XJet

Leveraging proprietary inkjet technology, Israeli company XJet plans to introduce a growing number of metal and ceramic build materials to anticipate evolving industry needs. This Israeli startup has developed a unique metal and ceramics technology that can make highly detailed parts for mass production applications using nanoparticle-enhanced ink.

At its core, the business seeks to partner with customers to engage its technology in high-profile projects, finding solutions to some tough challenges, such as developing a ceramic needle with Marvel Medtech, which is guided to breast cancer tumors using MRI and can very precisely at the right point perform cryoablation. In fact, XJet Chief Business Officer Dror Danai said his focus is on “making the impossible possible.“

Its innovative uses for 3D printing technology and a business valuation somewhere between $175 million and $250 million puts this company on the top of our list. Additionally, the business received cash from funding worth $79 million over five rounds, with investors like China’s Hifuture Electric or Israeli-based private equity investors at Catalyst Funds.


Nexa3D's 3D printing systems up close. Nexa3D 3D printing photoplastic systems up close. Image courtesy of Nexa3D.

If we had to pick a 3D printing company to follow in the steps of Formlabs, Carbon, or DM, it should be Nexa3D. The California manufacturer has managed to unleash the power of ultrafast production polymer 3D printers, hoping to make AM mainstream and sustainable. Even the company’s mission statement delivers the “wow factor” for customers: “We do more than offer 3D printing solutions. We build time machines.” Beyond the interesting take on its machines, Nexa3D wants to deliver super-fast, affordable industrial-grade stereolithography platforms to customers.

With partners like leading Formula One team Williams Racing, Motorola, Henkel, Swedish AM specialist 3DVerkstan Nordic, to name a few, Nexa3D says it’s “smashing traditional time barriers” associated with legacy 3D printing processes. Co-founded in 2016 by former 3D Systems CEO Avi Reichental and serial entrepreneur Yori Nelken, the company has raised a total of $95 million in funding over five rounds, and even though its valuation is undisclosed, financial platform Crunchbase predicts the value is somewhere between $100 million and $500 million.


AREVO Arevo “Aqua” 3D-Printing System for Composite Parts. Image courtesy of Arevo

Next on our list is Arevo. Known for its continuous carbon fiber 3D printing technology, Arevo was founded in 2014 in Silicon Valley and had initially released a range of fused filament fabrication (FFF) composites claimed to be five times stronger than titanium. Since then, it has developed a laser-based method for 3D printing carbon fiber with a multi-axis robotic arm, which, paired with quality design software, allows Arevo, and its customers, to automate the design and printing of large, complex, continuous CFRP composite parts.

Backed by investors like the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)’s venture capital arm, In-Q-Tel, and early-stage venture fund Defy.vc, Arevo has raised close to $70 million and, like Nexa3D, was valued in the range between $100 million and $500 million. After introducing its Aqua 2 system in 2020 and completing the construction of its continuous carbon fiber composite AM facility in Danang Hi-tech Park in Vietnam, Arevo expects to continue transforming composites manufacturing with 3D printing.


The manufacturing process with new, 3D printed metal grippers. The manufacturing process with new, 3D printed metal grippers. Image courtesy of nTopology.

Moving on to the AM software ecosystem, one company has garnered our attention: engineering software startup nTopology. Headquartered in New York, this company’s unique software platform allows engineers to consider design, simulation, and advanced manufacturing in one workflow. Valued at $90 million, the thriving six-year-old business raised more than $70 million from at least 17 investors. Like Arevo, nTopology has attracted intense investment interest from In-Q-Tel, even though the exact nature of the investment was not disclosed to the public.

Since launching its nTop software platform for advanced manufacturing, nTopology has picked up several powerful customers, including Lockheed Martin, the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), Disney, and Daimler. Former Autodesk CEO Carl Bass even joined the startup’s board of directors. The technology has certainly captivated many interested customers, from both public and private organizations, making this one of our top soonicorns. Looking forward, the company wants to help users navigate new manufacturing technologies by automating proven workflows and capturing the engineering design process to create a broader computational workflow.


3D printed metal parts with 3DEO. Production metal 3D printing with 3DEO. Image courtesy of 3DEO.

Known for its unique Intelligent Layering process, 3DEO’s technology specializes in manufacturing complex metal parts in high volumes, recently shipping its millionth part and on track to ship well over a million next year. The startup’s patented metal 3D printing technology specifically created for serial production helps customers save between 30% to 50% versus traditional manufacturing techniques, like CNC machining and metal injection molding (MIM), states the firm.

Amid one of the worst years in recent history due to the Covid-19 pandemic, 3DEO reported triple-digit growth across multiple areas of the company, which it attributes to both its novel AM process and its business model.

Unlike other metal printing startups, 3DEO doesn’t sell its systems. In fact, company Founder and President Matt Sand said the goal is to sell printing as a service and “do for manufacturing what Amazon’s AWS (Web Services) did for the internet by offering low-cost access to flexible, scalable, and world-class manufacturing infrastructure.” 3DEO’s unique binder jetting technology and how the company is using it for serial production in 3D printing, paired with solid investments worth $31.1 million raised in over three rounds, put this company on our radar of soonincorns.

This list is purely for informational purposes alone. It is not directed to any category of investors and should not be regarded as investment advice or should not in any way come across as a recommendation to buy or sell assets.

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