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Entrepreneurship, Innovation, and Serendipity: 3D printing at work in everyday life

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“At the World Cup in June, a paraplegic person is going to be wheeled out in a wheel chair, but they’re going to stand up and walk out and kick the first ball.”

“My wife wishes there was an AA for entrepreneurs,” Prawel said.

As cofounder of successful companies like Skybeam Wireless, Longview Advisors Inc., and the 3D Collaboration and Interoperability Congress, Dr. David Prawel is no stranger to startups.

The Idea-2-Product 3D Printing Laboratory (I2P) is Prawel’s most recent startup and is based out of the College of Engineering at CSU. I2P is a 3D “make lab” that specializes in 3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing.

The lab is open to anyone, and provides users with an inexpensive and faster way to create prototypes and get their ideas to market. I2P provides training, equipment, and software and modeling assistance, helping users with a project from start to finish.

3D printing is the process of creating a detailed, three-dimensional object from a digital model, and it first emerged as a technology about 30 years ago. Now becoming increasingly popular, Prawel envisions that 3D printers will move out of the “geekdom of laboratories” and will become available wherever people go to get parts – places like RadioShack and Home Depot.

Prawel saw the need for accessible 3D printing technology here in Northern Colorado and realized it was possible while he was on a trip to South Africa. Here he visited a very poor community that had a small 3D printing lab set up in a room no larger than the average office at CSU.

“I thought if a community like that can support such a thing, we should be able to do some amazing things in our community. I started talking with various people and deciding if it made sense. I never formed a clear answer of whether it actually did make sense, but decided to go ahead with it,” he said laughing.

After seeking feedback from anyone who would listen and holding dozens of meetings to determine the idea’s feasibility, the first 3D printers were purchased.

“Tie that together with a little room to put them, and we had a lab. And then it happened – well, it’s still happening. It’s a work in progress,” Prawel said.

The lab is turning out around 10 projects a month and growing revenue more quickly than Prawel first imagined. Prawel is eager to see the next big idea hit the streets, and wants to create a network of people empowered by additive manufacturing and personal fabrication, joining thinkers in a community of collaboration.

“My real passion is to take innovation and entrepreneurship to everybody – to every little community, to every farmer who needs a new part for the barn.”

It is this passion that drove Prawel and the I2P team to want to create objects like the exoskeleton helmet for the World Cup in addition to a myriad of other useful innovations (link – .

The innovation doesn’t stop there – recently Prawel met with Easton LaChapelle, a Colorado native who developed a fully mobile, functional 3D hand that connects to neural signals in the wrist about three years ago. He now has a funded company to build an exoskeleton based on his technology.

And LaChapelle just got his driver’s license – he created his first prototype when he was only 14 years old, showing how 3D printing technology can be accessible to people from all ages and walks of life.

“The money in the industry will be made from the people who make it easier and more accessible than from the people who develop the core platform. The people who will make money in this field will be the people who sell razor blades, not razors – who sell the tracks, not the train cars,” Prawel said.

But there’s an element to the success of a startup like I2P that entrepreneurs can’t possibly account for.

“All startups succeed or fail by serendipity and a little luck. Bill Gates didn’t make Microsoft by a set of conscious decisions; he made Microsoft by a couple of lucky shots, a lot of hard work, and alignment of the moons,” Prawel said.

Prawel also talked about timing, which he described as just another form of serendipity.

“3D printing is hot right now, and everyone’s interested in it, so it’s the perfect time to do something that is out of vogue,” he said.

And while 3D printing in and of itself is inherently interesting, Prawel stresses that it’s how you use the technology that really matters. He says it’s about moving fast and being patient at the same time, adapting yourself and your processes to the need of the day, and capitalizing on opportunities as they come. It’s about making possible what was once thought impossible, like giving a paraplegic person the freedom to get up and walk through the use of a 3D printed helmet and exoskeleton.

“It doesn’t matter how old you are, who you are, where you come from. That’s the big story with 3D printing. It’s the difference between something that’s cool and something that really changes your life,” Prawel said.

Learn about other stories of how 3D printing can change lives by watching Dr. David Prawel’s recent talk from CSU Career Center’s BioTech Connect.