You may have the greatest idea in the world and just need that small investment of faith to launch it into a fully-fledged business. If a single individual, perhaps with a net worth of over $1 billion, could just throw some chump change your way, you could be on your way to success.
Well, if you’re in the additive manufacturing (AM) industry, there are investors who may have a keen interest in your startup. Here is a list of the top 19 angel investors of 3D printing. While some have invested cash in AM among a long list of other business ideas, some are actually quite familiar with technology or have poured significant amounts into specific 3D printing firms.
CEO of Autodesk from 2006 to 2017, Carl Bass kicked off a maker revolution within the company that saw it transform from a fragmented CAD business into an integrated manufacturing software provider. This included the acquisition of Instructables.com and TinkerCAD, as well as the development of the open source Ember 3D printer. Bass himself is a passionate builder and tinkerer, currently rebuilding classic vehicles and converting them to electric power. Meanwhile, he serves on the boards of numerous companies and institutions, including Autodesk and Formlabs, and occasionally invests in startups.
Given his background, you’d expect him to take an interest in AM. So far, he has invested over $50 million in various fabrication startups, including $40 million in Manufacturing Execution System provider Oqton (acquired by 3D Systems) and $10 million in GPU-driven software firm Dyndrite. When he ran Autodesk’s venture arm, he also threw $10 million in support to Carbon. Additionally, he’s invested NZ$11 million into a digital metal casting startup called Foundry Lab and an AI-powered machining software business called CloudNC.
Peter Mercelis was the founder of LayerWise, which now serves the basis for 3D Systems’ metal powder bed fusion technology. After selling his University of Leuven spinout to the AM stalwart in 2014, Mercelis continued working for 3D Systems for several more years before getting involved in a number of additive endeavors. This has included: Aerosint, i.Revitalise, BOND3D, Oqton, Antelron, AdditiveLab, Amnovis, and Replasia.
Of these, Mercelis has at least invested in Aerosint and Oqton, the former acquired by Desktop Metal and the latter by 3D Systems. Because he sits or sat on the board of the other firms, we may be able to assume that he may be a stockholder in them as well. Like Hans Langer’s strategy with AM Ventures, Mercelis seems to be working with startups that tackle different aspects of 3D printing that are in development. For instance, Aerosint relates to multi-material 3D printing, Oqton factory software integration, BOND3D PEEK polymer 3D printing, AdditiveLab simulation software, Antelron bioprinting, i.Revitalize business-to-business service bureau, Replasia 3D printed hip replacements. Therefore, if you’re angling for Mercelis as an angel investor, you might fulfill a missing link in the AM ecosystem or provide an application-focused product.
To be honest, I’ve never seen Shark Tank, but I do know that Mark Cuban is one of the lead “shark” investors on ABC’s reality show. With an estimated $4.3 billion, the owner of the Dallas Mavericks and 2929 Entertainment, doesn’t only accept pitches from wannabe reality TV inventors. In fact, he is a key backer for two of the most interesting startups in AM: Fabric8Labs and Relativity Space.
Across four rounds, Cuban has invested in Fabric8Labs, which seeks to revolutionize metal 3D printing through an electrochemical deposition process. He’s participated in even more funding rounds with Relativity Space, which developed what may be the world’s largest directed energy deposition (DED) metal 3D printers to create entire rocket engines. These aren’t frivolous endeavors, but potentially game-changing technologies. Cuban may know what he’s doing when it comes to investing in metal AM.
The founder and lead developer of the Drupal content management system, Dries Buytaert is no stranger to software. As CTO of Acquia, he relaunched the whitehouse.gov website on Drupal. He continues to be president of the Drupal Association. Based on his background participating in the Series A round for Oqton, acquired by 3D Systems, it wouldn’t be surprising if the native Belgian backed another Belgian software startup.
Musician-turned-investor James Sowers has acted as angel for over 40 startups and initial coin offerings. This included providing $1.5 million to Voodoo Manufacturing. While the Brooklyn startup closed its doors last year, it did have a unique strategy. The firm’s goal was to use desktop level machines (MakerBot specifically) to perform large batch production. This relied on Voodoo’s in-house software for queuing and coordinating 3D printers. Eventually, the company even developed low-cost robotics for removing and shuttling parts.
Voodoo may have bitten the dust, but the concept still has potential. Moreover, given Sowers’s role as an advisor in blockchain technologies, he could very well be interested in investing into blockchain related to AM. Some argued that blockchain will be key to protecting the digital files that power 3D printed objects, perhaps all along the workflow from print prep to streaming models to the printer over WiFi. This concept of industrial NFTs has been advocated and explored by such manufacturing giants as Siemens.
Of the 163 companies that Charlie Songhurst has backed, Formlabs may not have been able to make it without a seed round boost from this investor. The founding partner of Katana Capital, Songhurst previously ran corporate strategy for Microsoft, where he was involved in the acquisition of Skype. Formlabs is now considered a double unicorn, valued at over $2 billion. It quickly established itself as a manufacturer of professional-level software and hardware, including multiple 3D printing processes targeted at a variety of applications.
Songhurst has also contributed funds to other digital manufacturing startups, including CloudNC, as well as Riven, which develops quality control technology for 3D printing. Acquired by Stratasys, Riven lists as its partners such important 3D printing firms as GKN Additive, RE3DTECH, and Evolve Additive Solutions. With these in mind, it may be worth approaching the angel investor with a truly beneficial AM technology, on the software or hardware side.
Pascal Cagni, Eyal Gura, and Joi Ito
Songhurst wasn’t the only angel sitting on Formlabs’ shoulder. The MIT spinout also found support from tech legends and MIT faculty. Pascal Cagni, who participated in a Series B round, helped Apple grow its revenues from $1.2 billion to more than $37 billion over the 12 years he served as Vice President of Apple Europe, Middle East, India and Africa (EMEIA). Eyal Gura, the founder and chairman of AI diagnosis firm Zebra Medical, contributed during the startup’s Series A. As a former professor with MIT and director of the MIT Media Lab, it’s no surprise that Joi Ito would back a MIT-affiliated startup like Formlabs in its seed round. His contributions may no longer be highly valued, however, due to his association with Jeffrey Epstein.
Once known as the evil monopolist of the Dot Com era, Bill Gates has since had his reputation thoroughly laundered. Not only is he a charitable philanthropist, but he is also an angel investor. He is a serious backer of Fictiv, a Bay Area startup that has developed a digital manufacturing platform that allows customers to have parts manufactured via suppliers around the globe. In addition to contributing to multiple rounds with Fictiv, Gates was also an early supporter of one of the earliest cultured meat startups, Upside Foods.
There’s nothing flashier for a famous rich person to invest in than bioprinted meat. Not only has Bill Gates thrown money at the cause, but so too has Ashton Kutcher. The That 70’s Show star went on to establish a storied career beyond entertainment to include capital investments. Among the more than 60 startups that Kutcher has contributed to is Steakholder Foods (formerly MeaTech), the Israeli meat 3D printing firm publicly traded on the Israeli stock market.
Another increasingly trendy subsegment we can see investors turning to is additive construction (AC), which is what Shane Neman has shown an interest in. The serial entrepreneur behind EZ Texting and JoonBug backed Mighty Buildings, which has developed a unique technology for 3D printing polymer building elements offsite. This aligns with Neman’s history of investing in tech, real estate and hospitality. Other firms he’s backed include Convoy, Prose, Impossible Foods, Universal Standard, Apostrophe, MeetMindful, MapAnything, VinePair and Smylen.
Famous for becoming the youngest contractor at Apple at age 14, Tom “the Kid” Williams has invested in some 66 startups, exiting eight: Grove, Layer6, YesGraph, SensiBill, Knix, June, Joist, and Circle Media. Born and raised in Victoria, BC, Canada, Williams saw the U.S. as an empire in decline and decided to throw funds behind one of the two countries he believe would be surpassing it. He chose India over China and invested in Indian grocery startup JumboTail. Among his other investments is Canadian bioprinting firm Aspect Biosystems. With that in mind, Williams may still have a soft spot for Indian and Canadian firms and is said to be very approachable, given his own start as an Apple-obsessed kid in Victoria.
Another investor in AC startup Mighty Buildings, Brad Flora is a visiting partner at Y Combinator and former CEO of small business advertising platform Perfect Audience. By selling that startup for $25.5 million to Marin Software, Flora was launched into the world of angel investment. In addition to the seed round of Mighty Buildings, he has participated in funding such firms as Atlas Obscura, Disclosures.IO, Next Caller, VIDA & Co. and about 64 other startups.
Erik Peterson entered the angel investor world with the successful launch of his college campus marketplace DormTrader. Peterson has backed such startups as Airbnb, Caribou Biosciences, MineralSoft, and Momentus Space. Among the 3D printing firms he’s invested in are Relativity Space, WhiteClouds, Aspect Biosystems, and Structured Polymers. This last company had a successful exit when it was purchased by Evonik in 2019, giving the German chemical company the ability to powderize a wide variety of thermoplastics.
Chamath Palihapitiya, JB Straubel, Mike Volpe, Wayne Chang
Just as Formlabs found success with several angel investors, so too did Desktop Metal. Chamath Palihapitiya was the longest tenured member of Facebook’s senior executive team, driving it to its great success. Since then, the Sir-Lankan-Canadian has not only become the owner of the Golden State Warriors, but he is also the founder and managing partner of The Social+Capital Partnership, dedicated to healthcare, education, financial services, mobile and enterprise software startups.
Co-Founder and CEO of sustainable materials firm Redwood Materials, JB Straubel served as CTO of Tesla for 15 years, which he also co-founded. He helped establish the engineering team, battery cell design, supply chain and created the Gigafactory concept up through the ramp of Model 3 production.
Mike Volpe began with HubSpot, which he led to an IPO and $1.7B market cap. From there, he participated in over 25 angel investments with his partner Yoav Shapira, including four exits: HubSpot, Locately, GroSocial, ThriveHive. He is now Senior Advisor at Silversmith Capital Partners.
Wayne Chang founded Crashlytics, acquired by Twitter for more than $100 million in 2013. He continued as an entrepreneur, angel investor, film producer, and philanthropist, establishing filesharing network i2hub and backing JetSmarter, Draftkings, and Gusto. His lawsuit against the Winklevoss twins was made famous by The Social Network movie.