Born out of a geometry-focused consulting agency that has worked with major architecture firms and retail brands, Toronto-based software startup Metafold 3D wants to make it easier for manufacturers to design and 3D print complex parts.
Armed with $500,000 CAD in pre-seed funding from Vancouver-based cleantech investor Active Impact Investments, Metafold plans to use the capital to grow its team, develop its platform, and support its beta launch later this month.
“I’m just excited to be supporting people who are pushing these boundaries.”
-Elissa Ross, Metafold
The startup was founded in 2020 by a group of math, geometry, and architecture experts in CEO Elissa Ross, CTO Daniel Hambleton, and COO Tom Reslinski. The trio decided to launch Metafold while working at Mesh Consultants, a geometry consulting agency that Hambleton founded.
Mesh Consultants was doing work with a major sportswear manufacturer on a 3D printing-related project focused on using lattice geometry to enhance athletic performance. Through this project, which remains ongoing, Ross, Hambleton, and Reslinski learned just how difficult it was to execute complex geometry in 3D printing. “We started to realize that this was a much bigger problem,” Ross told BetaKit in an interview.
Metafold hopes to support new applications for industrial 3D printing through its LightCycle platform. The startup claims that its patent-pending tech enables engineers to reduce the amount of material required for products in the energy management, medical, automotive, and consumer goods spaces, and can also reduce the preprocessing, iteration, and manufacturing time required to produce certain products.
In the United States, manufacturing and transportation account for a significant proportion of carbon emissions, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. The environmental impact of 3D printing—a form of additive manufacturing—is often lower than that of traditional manufacturing, in part because the process allows manufacturers to 3D print parts and goods locally, rather than shipping them from around the world.
Metafold aims to enable incumbent producers to widely adopt 3D printing. The environmental and sustainability implications of this idea helped the startup land Active Impact as an investor, through the firm’s second fund (which has since topped out at $60 million CAD with the addition of EDC).
Initially, Ross, Hambleton, and Reslinski thought Metafold would be a hardware company. But as they surveyed the competitive landscape, the issue at hand, and pandemic-related supply chain disruptions, the trio soon realized that “the critical issue” was actually at the design stage and opted to focus exclusively on software.
“We really identified this bottleneck at the design side,” said Ross. “There are hardware manufacturers who have these factories of 3D printers, and they’re ready to manufacture things, but there aren’t enough people designing things for 3D printing, because it’s hard.”
As Active Impact founder and managing partner Mike Winterfield puts it, Metafold aims to provide “missing middleware” to connect traditional design software to 3D printers.
“There’s lots of great design software out there, there’s actually greatly improved hardware out there … but there isn’t an easy way to get your designs from traditional software over to that hardware,” Winterfield told BetaKit in an interview.
Metafold sees potential in targeting manufacturers using 3D printing to manufacture “frontier technologies” in the cleantech, aerospace, and medical sectors.
Ross expressed excitement about having Active Impact as a backer, describing the firm as “a great fit” for Metafold due to its cleantech focus, and the expertise it brings on the sales and fundraising fronts, given Metafold’s particularly technical founding team.
The startup’s pre-seed round, which it raised via SAFE, represents Metafold’s first venture funding to date. The company aims to raise a larger seed round in 2023.
Metafold also marks Active Impact’s first investment in a 3D printing company. For Active Impact, which typically invests larger sums in early-stage companies with more employees, revenue, and established customers, the firm’s decision to take on a higher degree of risk and invest in Metafold at this stage is unusual.
“We really wanted to support this market,” said Winterfield. “We really wanted to be early with our pick of who we think will be a winner in the 3D printing space.”
Metafold aims to provide “the missing piece of middleware” for 3D printing.
While Metafold isn’t the only company trying to solve for this, Winterfield claims the startup is ahead of the field in terms of the lattice structures it has available and transfer speed between design software and 3D printers. “Where they have to catch up to competitors is UI and UX,” he said.
Ross emphasized Metafold’s expertise in lattices and metamaterials as a differentiator. The CEO also highlighted that unlike Metafold’s offering—which manufacturers can integrate into their existing tools—other available products are often tied to specific pieces of hardware.
Metafold did a smaller trial of its software this spring, and has been incorporating the feedback it gathered into a beta version that it intends to roll out before the end of August.
Ultimately, Ross is bullish on the long-term potential of combining manufacturing with a focus on geometry. “I think 3D printing will be impactful on the lives of everyone through these kinds of frontier technologies that are under development now,” she said. “I’m just excited to be supporting people who are pushing these boundaries.”
Feature image courtesy Metafold 3D.