AMS Spring 2023

3D Printed House Startup ICON Raises $185M

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Austin-based ICON is a startup on the move. After raising $207 million in a Series B in August 2021, the additive construction firm has extended that round with an additional $185 million, according to TechCrunch. The tech news site also reported an anonymous source claiming that the valuation of the company “is now approaching $2 billion,” which would morph ICON from a soonicorn into an actual 3D printing unicorn.

ICON is one of the leading concrete 3D printing startups in the U.S., having already achieved a number of “firsts” and “largests”. This includes the “largest” 3D printed structure in North America and the “first” 3D printed housing community. It’s also researching the 3D printing of moon and Mars bases. It’s also set to 3D print 100 homes in Texas, but, as we have seen with similar plans from other companies, those projects sometimes run into roadblocks. In total, ICON has 3D printed over 24 houses and other structures in North America, with over half used to home the homeless.

The Vulcan 3D printer from ICON.

The Vulcan 3D printer from ICON. Image courtesy of ICON.

This latest round should help push the company further forward. It was led by Tiger Global Management, a leading U.S. investment firm with over US$95 billion in assets under management. This includes 3D printing startups nTopology and Relativity Space. With previous funding by investors such as Norwest Venture Partners, 8VC, Bjarke Ingels Group, BOND, Citi Crosstimbers, Ensemble, Fifth Wall, LENx, Moderne Ventures and Oakhouse Partners, the startup now  has $451 million in equity.

Two new additions to ICON’s East 17th Street Residences in Texas. Image courtesy of ICON.

The additive construction segment is growing rapidly. Though there are still only a handful of players in the space, some of those firms are enormous. Specifically, Saint-Gobain and Holcim, which pull in annual revenues of $41.8 billion and $29.2 billion respectively. There’s also Sika, with a revenue of $8.8 billion and PERI Group, with $1.91 billion. Of course, we can’t forget Black Buffalo 3D, a subsidiary of a subsidiary of the world’s third-largest automaker by volume, Hyundai, which earns about $96 billion a year. While firms like Black Buffalo are themselves developers of cement 3D printers, Holcim and PERI Group rely on machines from COBOD, which has partnered with such big names as GE and CEMEX, $74.2 billion and $13 billion in revenues respectively.

All of this is to say that ICON is up against some pretty big competition, even if it does have nearly half-a-billion in equity. However, ICON has its own enormous backers—specifically NASA and the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD). While NASA’s 2020 budget was $22.6 billion, Biden signed a $777.7 billion budget for the DoD’s 2022 fiscal year. That doesn’t mean that ICON will get nearly a trillion dollars in U.S. tax dollars to 3D print homes across the country, but it does mean that, if the National Guard and U.S. Air Force want to make a barracks even larger than the largest 3D printed structure in North America, it probably can. And if the DoD wants to take its experiments with 3D printed concrete structures to the field, it can do that, too.

So, while it may not be as big as Hyundai, ICON has friends in high places so that, when it comes to competing against other businesses in additive construction, it may just win out. This could be true even if the technology doesn’t pan out to be as disruptive as it seems on the surface because, as we have learned from the F-35, a military contract is valuable regardless of what it funds.

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