In the early 2000s, I was the co-founder of wireless networking technology startup Ember, and I'll never forget my first meeting with fellow entrepreneur Ric Fulop. We met through the MIT community, and while we didn't know it then, that first meeting marked the beginning of a two-decade long working relationship where we'd later cross paths again.
Today, Ric is the CEO, co-founder, and entrepreneurial brains behind the metal 3D printing startup Desktop Metal. I first invested in the company in late 2016; this morning it went public on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE: DM). Desktop Metal has developed a 3D printer capable of printing on a wide range of metals at a considerably lower cost than existing machines can. The company's portfolio of manufacturing solutions is used across industries including automotive, aerospace, healthcare, consumer products, heavy industry, machine design and research and development. Desktop Metal is one of the fastest-growing unicorns in history, and Ric's story about taking the company from a fringe technology startup idea to a metal 3D printing behemoth used by engineers, designers, and manufacturers across the world is fascinating.
The origins of metal 3D printing date back to 1986, when stereolithography was patented as the first way to "print" thin layers of materials on a machine. Despite significant advances in metal 3D printing technology afterwards, it remained a niche technology, used only for prototyping or ultra high value parts. For most engineers and manufacturing businesses, it was an out of reach "nice to have," not a must-have.
In 2015, Ric had moved on from founding five other companies and being an investor. For his next act, he was determined to take metal 3D printing from expensive niche technology to a tool for low cost mass manufacturing and everyday prototyping. As an investor and entrepreneur, he had come across dozens of 3D printing companies, but none had allowed engineers to access metal 3D printing for everyday prototyping (existing metal 3D printers required expensive explosion proof rooms) or made it cost effective for mass manufacturing. Ric and his co-founders — who include Ely Sachs, inventor of binder jet 3D printers, and Chris Schuh, the chair of MIT's Material Science Department and a renowned metallurgist — envisioned a world where printing metal parts was no longer science fiction, but the future of additive manufacturing.
CEO Ric Fulop rings @NYSE opening bell - @DesktopMetal becomes the only publicly traded pure-play #AM2.0 company, offering the fastest #metal3DP in the market, up to 100x the speed of legacy systems. #openingbell https://t.co/4QUUHwZ7H4 pic.twitter.com/9XQ5i30Obt— Desktop Metal (@DesktopMetal) December 10, 2020
In late 2015, news about Ric's latest venture caught my eye. I later went to Boston to meet him after Desktop Metal had raised a round of funding. He had yet to incorporate the company, set up a real office, or create a working prototype, but his excitement was palpable. Ric possesses an unwavering conviction that metal 3D printing will make it cheaper, easier, and faster to produce metal parts using a production-scale system. Ric is nothing if not driven, persistent, and outspoken. His eyes lit up as he told me, "This is going to change everything!"
And it did. Desktop Metal developed a technology loosely based on a branch of powder metallurgy known as metal injection molding. In this process, fine metal powder is mixed with binders and shot into an injection mold. Using this technology base, Desktop Metal has figured out how to make products that are office safe as well as products that are orders of magnitude faster and cheaper than legacy metal 3D printing technologies. They found the right material properties to make this a real manufacturing technology at a cost that makes it scalable.
In 1950, 3D printing was nothing more than a fictional tale in Astounding Science Fiction Magazine. Today, thanks to companies like Desktop Metal, it's a mass manufacturing reality. Desktop Metal has shaped how metal is produced, ushering in a new era for 3D printing that brings digitized technology to manufacturing.
On behalf of GV, congratulations to Ric Fulop and the entire Desktop Metal team on taking the company public today.