3D Printing’s 2023 Startup Stars: Spotlight on Investment-Fueled Startups

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Innovation knows no bounds, and the realm of 3D printing is no exception. As we usher in a new year, let’s shine a spotlight on ten dynamic 3D printing startups hailing from different corners of the globe that have caught the attention of investors even in the tumultuous landscape of 2023. Amid these challenges, CNBC‘s Deirdre Bosa explains that rising interest rates have taken a toll on startups, impacting their future cash flows and leading to an increase in shutdowns. CNN went as far as to describe 2023 as an “extinction-level” year for tech startups, citing the unfavorable economic environment and a banking crisis that affected investment opportunities. Fortune reported that 543 startups declared bankruptcy or shut down during this challenging year.

Despite these headwinds, these 3D printing startups have so far pushed through. With diverse applications spanning industries from healthcare to aerospace, these companies want to leave their mark in the additive manufacturing (AM) world. From Germany to the United States, and from stealth mode ventures to those already making waves, these companies are pushing the boundaries of what’s possible in 3D printing. Whether it’s harnessing magnetic fields for precision printing or pioneering medical solutions that promise to change lives, each of these startups has a story to tell. Here are ten names to watch closely in 2024.

Madde

A 3D printing company spun out of Hyundai, MADDE revolves around producing silicon carbide (SiC) parts using binder jet 3D printing. SiC, a material widely used in industries such as semiconductors, has traditionally posed challenges due to its hardness and fragility, demanding time and resources for processing. MADDE’s innovative 3D printing method simplifies manufacturing while reducing costs, particularly compared to traditional cutting methods. With plans to serve the semiconductor and space industries, MADDE wants to expand its reach, particularly in crafting small nuclear reactor components.

“We are making the third hardest material on Earth with a 3D printer. We plan to make parts that no one else has been able to provide in the semiconductor, space, and nuclear fields,” remarked CEO Cho Shin-hoo.

After the spin-off in July 2023, MADDE secured a seed round totaling 2.6 billion won ($2 million). The investment round saw participation from DSC Investment, Schmidt, ETRI Holdings, and, of course, Hyundai. The funding will bolster MADDE’s equipment, research and development efforts, and facility expansion, including constructing a production plant near Ttukseom, Seoul. However, the company’s ambitions extend beyond semiconductors, encompassing aerospace and nuclear fields, where it intends to produce a variety of SiC-based components, such as rocket engine nozzle extensions, satellite mirrors, and nuclear fuel powder containers for small nuclear reactors. MADDE’s expertise and AM know-how position it as a key contributor to the growth of the domestic manufacturing industry.

Type One Energy

Continuing with semiconductors, here’s a company that wants to revolutionize energy production. Type One Energy aims to provide sustainable and affordable fusion power. Established in 2019, the company brings together a team of globally recognized fusion scientists with a proven track record in building advanced devices for harnessing fusion energy called stellarator fusion machines. Experts from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the Max Planck Institute for Plasma Physics, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) are all collaborating. Among the advanced methods employed by Type One Energy, AM plays a crucial role in developing compact and efficient stellarator fusion systems through their FusionDirect program.

In March 2023, Type One Energy made headlines after raising an over-subscribed $29 million in its first financing round. Notable investors in this round include Bill Gates’ Breakthrough Energy Ventures (BEV), TDK Ventures, Doral Energy Tech Ventures, and other cleantech investors.

“The world will need a source of high energy density low-carbon power in the coming decades to achieve energy transition and decarbonization. Among several startups that we have evaluated, Type One Energy is on a credible accelerated trajectory to commercialize a steady-state baseload fusion power plant. TDK Ventures is excited to back this highly accomplished leadership team,” said Tina Tosukhowong, Investment Director at TDK Ventures.

Building stellarators. Image courtesy of Type One Energy.

Type One Energy’s unique approach capitalizes on recent breakthroughs in stellarator fusion performance, plasma science, high-temperature superconducting (HTS) magnet technology, and AM. The successful commercialization of fusion power is seen as a significant leap toward achieving clean and abundant energy for everyone.

Wayland Additive

UK startup Wayland Additive was established in 2019 and has since been pushing the boundaries of electron beam (EBM) 3D printing. The company’s innovative approach to EBM technology has attracted attention, particularly in aerospace, power generation, and medical fields. Wayland Additive’s flagship product, the Calibur3 machine, has been instrumental in creating various components, including structural parts for aircraft, cooling assemblies for rockets, gearboxes for motorsports, and pumps for mining applications. The company’s proprietary NeuBeam process sets it apart by addressing challenges associated with existing metal additive manufacturing processes, offering high productivity, material versatility, process monitoring, and control.

In April 2023, Wayland Additive secured a funding boost of £4.6 million ($5.8 million) in a Series B investment round. Led by existing investors and new participant Metrea Discovery, a venture capital firm based in London specializing in national security and defense tech sectors, this latest funding round brings Wayland Additive’s total funding to nearly £8 million ($10 million). The company plans to leverage this cash to expand its in-house production capabilities, meet the increasing demand for its Calibur3 machines, hire additional personnel, and support further AM R&D.

Wayland Additive takes Calibur3 to showcase at events around the world. Image courtesy of Wayland Additive via LinkedIn.

FemTherapeutics

In a landscape where women’s health often falls underfunded and overlooked, Canadian startup FemTherapeutics is pioneering a new approach. Since its 2018 inception at McGill University, the startup has sought to provide personalized treatment options for common gynecological conditions. Co-founded by Inara Lalani, Negin Ashouri, and Mihnea Gangal, the startup was inspired by their experiences in the medical field, recognizing a pattern of unnecessary hysterectomy surgeries and a need for improvement in treatments like vaginal pessaries. FemTherapeutics relies on 3D printing to create customized solutions that overcome the shortcomings of existing treatments.

In May 2023, FemTherapeutics raised CA$ 2.5 million ($1.8 million) in a pre-seed round to advance women’s health. With this financial support, the company plans to develop its platform and devices further, initiate pivotal clinical studies, expand its team, and strengthen its intellectual property portfolio. FemTherapeutics envisions a future where personalized approaches, such as prosthetics, play a crucial role in advancing women’s health and addressing the significant gender disparities in medical innovation, particularly in conditions like pelvic organ prolapse (POP) and urinary incontinence.

A 3D printed pessary for women’s health. Image courtesy of FemTherapeutics.

Metafold

Another Canadian startup that made our list is Metafold. Founded in 2020, it seeks to aid AM through its design software and specializes in industrial-scale lattices, microstructures, metamaterials, and other complex geometries that defy traditional STL (stereolithography) designs. The journey of Metafold began when co-founders Elissa Ross, Daniel Hambleton, and Tom Reslinski, each expert in mathematics, geometry, and architecture, joined forces to address the challenges of using complex shapes in 3D printing. A significant catalyst for their startup was a project with a sportswear manufacturer where they explored lattice geometry to enhance athletic performance.

Metafold recognized a gap between the capabilities of 3D printing hardware and the software required to unlock its full potential. It developed a highly precise and lightning-speed geometry computation engine to bridge this gap. Their cloud-based Software as a Service (SaaS) platform enables design and engineering teams to create optimized parts quickly and easily. Metafold’s unique offering goes beyond standard 3D printing materials, allowing precise control of printed object geometries, especially lattices and metamaterials. This innovative approach opens doors for industries ranging from aerospace to footwear and filtration systems.

In May 2023, Metafold landed CA$2.4 million ($1.78 million) in seed funding. With these funds, Metafold aims to tackle complex geometry challenges and further advance the adoption of 3D printing in various sectors. Additionally, recent recognition from Sustainable Development Technology Canada has solidified Metafold’s position as a key player in emerging technologies, positioning it to impact the industry significantly.

Wild Card: Fluent Metal

In the world of startups, occasionally, a wildcard emerges from stealth mode, showing immense promise despite keeping its cards close to its chest. Fluent Metal is one such newcomer that warrants our curiosity. While details about the company are limited due to its secretive nature, the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based startup is on a mission to revolutionize metal 3D printing. Founded in 2020, it has already made waves by securing $4.4 million in venture funding in May 2023. At the helm is Peter Schmitt, a former Chief Designer at Desktop Metal and an MIT alumnus with a Ph.D. in Robotics. Schmitt’s vision and a team primarily hailing from MIT could set the stage for something big.

What sets Fluent Metal apart is its innovative approach to metal 3D printing, which aims to make it more economical, efficient, and safe. While specifics are kept secret, a few hints have emerged. According to Alex Kingsbury and Danny Piper’s fourth episode of the “Printing Money” podcast on 3DPrint.com, Fluent Metal has published a couple of patents online, so the duo suggests that the startup employs a unique microwire as feedstock, coupled with various heat sources like laser induction coilers. Their droplet-based metal AM technology appears to differentiate itself by directly creating droplets from the wire, avoiding the need for molten metal reservoirs. The potential applications and resolutions they’re targeting remain a mystery, but the ambition behind Fluent Metal’s work is undeniable, explains AM Ventures Managing Partner Arno Held, who also participated in the podcast.

In 3D printing, where innovation is a driving force, Fluent Metal’s emergence from stealth mode is certainly an event to watch. With Peter Schmitt’s impressive track record and the backing of MIT’s innovative ecosystem, Fluent Metal could be poised to disrupt the metal 3D printing landscape in remarkable ways. While they remain tight-lipped about their endeavors, the $4.4 million in funding is a positive sign.

These startups serve as a reminder that even in the most challenging times, creativity and determination can drive investments. This spirit of innovation will be displayed at the upcoming Additive Manufacturing Strategies (AMS) 2024 event, set to take place from February 6-8 in New York City. Organized by 3DPrint.com and Additive Manufacturing Research (AMR), AMS 2024 is a nexus for the brightest minds in 3D printing to converge, share ideas, and inspire each other. AMS 2024 will offer a platform for establishing new partnerships, uncovering emerging trends, and acquiring insights vital for navigating the evolving market dynamics of the upcoming year, highlighting the remarkable progress made so far and paving the way for future breakthroughs in this dynamic field.

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