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College Student's First 3D Printer Purchase Leads to a New Business

In 2016, John Kray bought his first 3D printer, a LulzBot Mini. Today, he’s in business as the co-founder of Hydra Research, LLC, a 3D printing startup in Portland, Oregon. Kray is a little bit surprised to find himself running a 3D printing startup, but thrilled at the same time.

“This is all a little overwhelming as I just graduated college less than 5 months ago, but at the same time I’ve never had more fun [while] doing something that felt as rewarding as starting this small company has been,” Kray said. “I’m totally serious when I say this, I probably wouldn’t have even thought of doing this if I hadn’t gotten the [LulzBot] Mini and been able to modify it so much and so easily. Getting that printer really sparked this whole journey I’m on right now.”

Kray was working at a coffee shop when his entrepreneurial 3D printing activities began. He was a physics undergraduate at the time and was fascinated with 3D printing, watching lots of YouTube videos of successful makers, and decided to get his own 3D printer. He decided on the LulzBot Mini for the low price and ease of use, then put it to work right away in his place of employment. The rubber handles on the espresso machines were worn out, so he 3D printed new ones out of WoodFill filament.

“I chose the [LulzBot] Mini because of the robust build quality, ability to print almost any material, and LulzBot’s dedication to Open Source,” Kray said. “The results were better than expected…the handles were sanded, stained, and lacquered, and have held up very well [against] the abuse of a very busy cafe environment.”

Kray and his classmate, Griffin Carey, started their own 3D Hub, which led to the founding of Hydra Research. The company continues to act as a 3D printing service, but is also developing its own products, like the LM Nano, a custom tool head for the LulzBot Mini that is equipped to print rigid, flexible, and abrasive materials. The founders have maintained an open source approach to their business – the approach that drew Kray to LulzBot in the first place.

“LulzBot’s commitment to Open Source software and hardware have really made the Mini a great tool as it’s easy to work on and fix ourselves, as well as make our own modifications,” Kray said. “I spend a lot of time on the LulzBot OHAI page [and] in the development documentation…If we haven’t hit 1,000 prints on the [LulzBot] Mini yet, we are getting very close.”

It’s not every day that buying a new 3D printer leads to the beginning of a new business, but that’s what happened in Kray’s case. That’s what many would like to see in the poorer, less industrialized areas in the world – people beginning their own manufacturing businesses after acquiring a 3D printer. Kray’s situation isn’t exactly the same, but he’s still proof that the acquisition of a 3D printer can change the direction of a life.

[Source LulzBot / Images: Hydra Research]


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