Even the market's soft start to 2014 has done little to dampen the bullish analysts. "We believe there are strong, accelerating fundamentals behind all the hype associated with 3D printing," states a 2014 report from RBC Capital Markets. "As the professional 3D printing market extends beyond the traditional prototype market to mass manufacturing, and consumers adopt the technology given ease of use and online marketplaces...we see the 3D printing market sustaining a 24% CAGR to $15B-plus in revenue by 2021."
In an exclusive interview with The Financial Press, President, Founder and CEO of Tinkerine Studios Ltd., the first publicly traded pure-play to manufacture and sell 3D printers in Canada, Eugene Suyu states "It won't be long before 3D printing technology becomes standard issue in every home." Tinkerine develops, manufactures, and distributes 3D printers, software, and materials for the consumer and education markets.
The company's focus to date has been on consumer and "prosumer" models, designed for the home enthusiast as well as for light commercial applications. In 2013, the company's Ditto+ 3D printer was named "Surprise Hit" and runner up for "Best Value" and "Best Documentation" by the influential hobbyist Make Magazine.
With its focus on the consumer and a passion for education, it's tempting to compare Tinkerine to MakerBot – MakerBot is now a subsidiary of Stratasys Incorporated, a heavyweight in the 3D printing enterprise market. Since 2009, MakerBot has sold some 22,000 units of its $2,000-$3,000 consumer-oriented 3D printers. In 2013, Stratasys announced the acquisition of MakerBot in a stock deal worth $403 million. Later that same year, MakerBot announced MakerBot Academy, its mission "to put a MakerBot Desktop 3D Printer in every school in America."
"We do need to put 3D printers in schools," says Suyu. "As the technology becomes widespread it will have to be adopted by younger students, because the underlying skill sets will become required as part of everyday life."
According to Tinkerine, the education market potential for 3D printers in North America is enormous, comprising eight million educators teaching some 60.7-million students in approximately 113,000 K-12 schools. In addition, there are approximately 21-million students enrolled in over 4,600 post-secondary and higher learning intuitions.
In keeping with Suyu's vision, Tinkerine recently announced the formation of "Tinkerine U," an educational initiative that boasts Simon Fraser University as its collaborative partner. "By providing teachers with a coherent teaching curriculum," says Suyu, "we can help guide them in their efforts to educate students. In addition, Tinkerine U will provide the necessary hardware and software to facilitate the instruction and creative exploration of 3D printing."
"Going forward," says Rob Smith, Tinkerine's Director of Business Development, "we have a strategic plan, and we believe we have the resources in place to execute on that plan. Importantly, we believe we have strong First Mover advantage to get 3D printers and our software curriculum into Canadian schools."
Smith, believes that the time is right for Tinkerine to make inroads into the education vertical. "Within the Canadian market there's a push to start setting up students for career-based skills as early as grade seven. In addition, there's a general academic shift towards teaching technology at an earlier age. Both of these factors fed into our decision to market our 3D printing solutions to schools."
Suyu and Smith describe Tinkerine as a company positioned at the intersection of two burgeoning markets: 3D printing and education technology (Ed Tech). According to CB Insights, a venture capital and angel investment database, Ed Tech hit a record high in Q1 2014, with investors pouring more than $559M into 103 deals - nearly 45% of total funding to the sector in all of 2013. The record quarter came after Ed Tech investments hit $1.25B across 378 deals in 2013, the second-straight year of over $1B invested across the Ed Tech sector. "Investors" writes CB Insights, "are clearly bullish on the education industry."
While it would be foolish to ignore the risks of investing in an emerging technology, it would be equally preposterous not to consider the market's incredible potential. Risk, after all, mitigated by a comforting stop loss order, is the other side of reward.