10 of the Most-Funded 3D Printing Startups in 2018
Futurists make a living – or at least headlines – by offering predictions about how trends and technologies today might play out in the future. We’ve quoted one or two of them in the past here, such as Ray Kurzweil or SoftBank’s Masayoshi Son, who both believe we are nearing the Singularity, when machines will match and exceed human intelligence and capability. Of course, if past results don’t guarantee future performance, then investors should be even more skeptical of betting on projections based on the white noise that passes for news and insight today. If such prognosticators are to be believed, then we should all have flying cars parked in our garages and 3D printers sitting on our desks. However, the failure of the latter to manifest doesn’t mean that 3D printing itself has failed.
On the contrary, our Nanalyze 3D Printing Motif has returned about 24% over the last year against about 4% for the S&P. That’s a big turnaround from a few years ago when investing in 3D printing stocks might have forced you to start printing your own money to recover. Interestingly, when we wrote that article in the third quarter of 2015, investments in 3D printing startups really started to gain traction. Cumulative funding to 3D printing companies has reached about $1.7 billion over nearly 500 rounds since 2006, according to Crunchbase. We queried their database to find the top ten funding rounds for 3D printing startups in 2018.
|Company||2018 Funding||Total Funding|
Note that SmileDirectClub wasn’t listed in Crunchbase as a 3D printing company but we added them to our list since what they do isn’t possible without 3D printing. One of their competitors, Align Technology (ALIGN), also seems to avoid labeling themselves as a 3D printing company, which leads us to believes these decisions are being driven by marketing or investor relations who prefer the company is classified as a healthcare company instead.
As we talked about before, there is no industry classification for 3D printing so this decision makes sense. Anyways, let’s move on to looking at the top-10 most funded 3D printing startups in 2018, starting with a company we profiled recently called SmileDirectClub.
The Biggest 3DP Round of 2018
We saw that 3D printing startups in 2017 had their best fundraising year to date thanks to a couple of mega-rounds to 3D printing unicorns Carbon and Desktop Metal. The big breakout in 2018 didn’t come from a 3D printer manufacturer but a company that 3D prints “invisible braces.” Sounding like the dental version of the hair club for baldness, SmileDirectClub took in a massive $380 million round last October, which makes it the biggest round ever for a startup in the 3D printing space, eclipsing the $200 million round from Carbon in 2017. We’ve written recently about how 3D manufacturing in mass customization is infiltrating other markets such as podiatry.
A Few of the Usual Suspects
Boston area startup Desktop Metal came in at a distant second with a $65 million round in 2018. It will probably appear on our 2019 list as well, having just closed a $160 million Series E in January, bringing total funding to a staggering $436.8 million. Forbes reported that the company has reached a valuation of about $1.5 billion and is about to release its first 3D metal printer for mass production. That’s huge: The ability to rapidly produce lightweight components at scale could finally make 3D metal printing competitive with traditional manufacturing, like solar has become with coal.
Another familiar name on the list is the third of the three 3D printing unicorns, Formlabs, which raised $45 million over two rounds in 2018. Also based in the Boston area, Formlabs hit the billion-dollar valuation despite having “only” raised about $103.7 million total. One of its newest products is 3D-printed dentures.
Next is New York-based Shapeways which we first discussed way back in 2016. In 2018, it raised $30 million to bring total funding to $107.5 million. The company is sort of an Etsy for 3D printing, providing both a virtual shop and marketplace, with more than 45,000 stores on its platform.
Enough about the companies we’ve covered in the past. This year’s list gives us an opportunity to cover some new up-and-coming 3D printing startups that we haven’t seen before. As always, we start with a caveat: Crunchbase is a crowdsourced resource, meaning companies aren’t always meticulously categorized.
Manufacturer of UV Resin 3D Printer
Founded in 2015, Ultracraft is a Chinese 3D printing startup out of Guangzhou that raised about $48 million in a single round last November. The company has developed what appears to be a UV resin 3D printer called Ultracraft A2 that uses a technology referred to as vat polymerization. What exactly does all that mean? “Vat polymerization utilizes a photopolymer in the form of a viscous fluid, resin, and a light source to cure the resin and therefore build the desired parts,” according to the website All3DP. The light source in the case of Ultracraft’s machine is an ultraviolet LED. Rather than building layers from the bottom up (known as Fused Deposition Modeling, or FDM), as most 3D printers do with a thermoplastic filament, Ultracraft A2 appears to pull the printed part from a vat of goo (i.e., the resin).
The company claims its 3D printers are 10 times faster than FDM models, and come equipped with smart sensors that allow A2 to “think and actively control the printing process.” Yes, the company claims it uses artificial intelligence in the 3D printing process. The first product with all of this tech? Dental models.
Producer of 3D Printing Metal Powders
Founded way back in 2001, UK-based Metalysis raised about $15.4 million in 2018, bringing total funding up to $96.2 million over seven rounds. The startup provides the raw materials for metal 3D printers, and just opened its first commercial production facility. Metalysis employs a proprietary electrochemical process that extracts alloys from metal oxides rather than the metal itself. That makes it cheaper and more eco-friendly, according to 3D Printing Industry, dropping the input costs from the current price of $70 per kilogram (2.2 pounds) to $2.50 per kilo.
The company is particularly known for its titanium production, but also produces graphene, and rare earth metals such as scandium and niobium. The materials are used for a variety of additive manufacturing projects in aerospace, automotive, magnets, nanotechnology, and battery technologies. Metalysis and the European Space Agency recently teamed up to sponsor a €500,000 ($563,000) competition to develop technologies for 3D printing materials on other worlds. Indeed, NewSpace has embraced 3D technology, particularly for 3D printing rocket engines.
Creator of 3D Anatomical Models for Surgery
Founded in 2015, Paris-based Biomodex picked up $15 million in 2018, bringing total disclosed funding to just $18.6 million over three rounds. The French startup creates specific anatomical 3D models of individual patients to assist doctors in surgery. The company’s website has zero information, but we came across an interesting interview with the CEO, who emphatically says his startup is a medtech company and not a 3D company. The results speak differently:
Biomodex has developed proprietary algorithms that allow it to build 3D printed models using different materials at the micron (read nano) level. “We can control every single drop of the material to match the mechanical target we have,” he told 3D Print, adding that the company is inventing new composite materials thanks to the algorithmic process. Talk about precision medicine.
3D Bioprinting for Synthetic Biology
Founded in 2014, London-based OxSyBio raised $12.8 million last year, bringing total funding to about $14 million (depending on when you calculate the exchange rate). Spun out of the University of Oxford, the startup’s long-term goal is to bioprint organs for transplant. However, its technology, which deposits a miniature droplet created through unique chemistry, can be imbued with different functions by including various cells, proteins, and chemicals. That can lead to some interesting applications, such as building electronic components from biological parts. In this case, specific proteins can be used to create networks of droplets that act as conductors of electricity, insulators, and diodes.
3D Printing with Robotics
Founded in 2013, Arevo Labs out of Silicon Valley has raised $19.5 million in disclosed funding, including last year’s $12.5 million Series B that included top VC firm Khosla Ventures. Arevo Labs had developed a unique 3D printing system that uses a robotic arm and a spinning plate to create its lightweight components:
The company claims its components are five times stronger at one-third the weight of titanium. While it serves industrial manufacturing, Arevo recently revealed a fully 3D printed bicycle frame that can be customized for individual riders. It also reduced the design cycle of creating a new bike from 18 months to 18 hours, at a fraction of the cost.
Augmented Deposition 3D Printer
Founded in 2012, Boston-based Rize just doubled its total funding to $29 million following a $15 million Series B a few days ago. That follows a $10 million round last November. Rize One is marketed as a patented hybrid augmented deposition 3D printer. It jettisons a specially formulated release agent between layers of extruded material, which allows support structures to be quickly, easily, and cleanly removed, while maintaining a “superior finish” on supported surfaces. Jetting also provides for the indelible application of graphics, text and digital tracing like QR or barcodes on any part surface. The company claims all of its materials are environmentally safe and don’t require a hazmat suit to use.
One customer is New Hudson Facades, which designs, engineers, manufactures, and installs custom facade systems for skyscrapers. The company has integrated the Rize One into its operations, saving $200,000 annually, increasing production speed by 15%, and cutting assembly inspection times in half.
Our latest roundup of the most-funded 3D startups in 2018 shows some promising trends. In particular, we’re keen to see if Desktop Metal can deliver a better and cheaper manufacturing process for metal components, because that would be a real game-changer. Even better, the company has implied last month’s $160 million venture round would be the last before an eventual IPO. Other interesting developments include the commercial-scale ability for customization of direct-to-consumer products in the case of SmileDirectClub, as well as innovative materials (Metalysis) and 3D printing systems (Arevo, Rize, UltraCraft).