Three Dimensional Printing
20 Pages Posted: 21 Oct 2008
This case describes how eight entrepreneurs discover different opportunities for new businesses to exploit a single technological invention. The case focuses on the process of entrepreneurial discovery and its implications for the creation of new firms. Many of the teaching materials on entrepreneurship assume that entrepreneurs have already discovered an opportunity. While these materials provide useful information about the process of creating new enterprises, they miss the crucial first step in the entrepreneurial process: identifying an opportunity. The case illustrates the theoretical concept of the role of information in the discovery of entrepreneurial opportunities. It can be used in a class on entrepreneurship or management of technology.
On December 8, 1989, the MIT Technology Licensing Office (TLO) filed for a U.S. patent on the Three Dimensional Printing Process (3DP), invented by a team of four MIT researchers: Emmanuel Sachs, John Haggerty, Michael Cima, and Paul Williams. As described in the U.S. patent, 3DP was
a process for making a component by depositing a first layer of a fluent porous material, such as a powder, in a confined region and then depositing a binder material to selected regions of the layer of powder material to produce a layer of bonded powder material at the selected regions. Such steps are repeated a selected number of times to produce successive layers of selected regions of bonded powder material so as to form the desired component. The unbonded powder material is then removed. In some cases the component may be further processed as, for example, by heating it to further strengthen the bonding thereof.
True to MIT form, the four inventors of 3DP were primarily motivated by academic research and not in starting a company to exploit the technology. The TLO was in the business of attracting licensees in an effort to promote MIT inventions. Over the next nine years, the 3DP process was presented in conference presentations, academic publications, a website, and TLO mailings. Several trade and popular publications, including Fortune, the Financial Times, and the Economist, wrote stories about it. Eight teams of entrepreneurs investigated the possibility of forming new companies to exploit the technology. Why did eight entrepreneurs discover opportunities to exploit the 3DP process? What business opportunities did these entrepreneurs discover in the 3DP process and how did they discover them?
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Keywords: entrepreneurs, entreneurship, technology management
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