Good afternoon, my name is Mariusz Babula, I’m the CEO and shareholder of Zortrax, a Polish manufacturer of 3D printers.
Today I have the great pleasure to present our story. I’ll start with a short, historical background.
Next, I’ll talk about our path from a local start-up to a globally recognized manufacturer of 3D printers and at the end I’ll talk about the factors that brought us here, to the place where we are right now and maybe that can serve as some kind of a lesson for us, for the Three Seas Initiative.
The last century was particularly difficult for our region. World wars, especially World War II where for example Poland lost one fifth of its population, many cities were destroyed.
Warsaw, where we are today, was completely destroyed. Next, there were the times of the communist regimes which divided Europe into two completely different worlds and after that we had a very turbulent transformation from a socialist system to a capitalist system.
There was a lack of basic products, problems with hyper-inflation, there wasn’t a good environment for entrepreneurs, we had many problems with civil rights and hostility from the government toward entrepreneurs, but yet we managed to transform into a capitalist economy. We have introduced some free market mechanisms, inflation decreased, and Polish companies are doing quite well on the global market right now.
We are still working on decreasing the technological gap between Poland and western economies. In 2016 we spent some 0.97% on the Polish GDP on research and development, just 3 years later we were spending 1.32% of Polish GDP, even though Polish GDP has increased, we still have much to do, because the EU average is on the level of 2.2% of GDP, however this growth that we have is very promising and those are maybe not the perfect conditions for tech companies, but it’s a good start.
Our story starts in 2011, but the history of 3D printing technology is much longer. The first 3D printer was created in the 1980s, but even in the beginning of the 21st century it was still a novelty, especially in Europe.
The market was divided into 2 segments: the first segment with enormous, extremely expensive, industrial 3D printers and the segment of small desktop 3D printers 'Do It Yourself’ constructions called RepRaps that were built by hobbyists for hobbyists.
The first ones, those industrial 3D printers were way too expensive for small and medium businesses, and those small RepRap constructions weren’t good enough for such professional applications and that was the void that we wanted to fill.
After 2 years of hard work, we’ve created our first 3D printer and M200. Being a hardware manufacturing company is quite difficult because R&D expenses are only the start, you have to have a lot of money to start manufacturing on a full scale. We chose a quite unusual way at that time, because we chose Kickstarter.
Kickstarter was very popular back then in the United States, quite popular in Western Europe, but almost completely unknown in Poland. Zortrax was the first Polish company to start a Kickstarter campaign.
We managed to raise 180 000 dollars during the campaign. This was an amount that was just enough to cover two months of operation, so we had to raise more capital and in 2013 Zortrax became a private limited company.
We issued corporate bonds and issued shares and thanks to private investors who bought those bonds and shares, we were able to start full scale manufacturing of our 3D printers.
Our 3D printer was awarded many times because of how easy it is to use, its reliability and for being an affordable 3D printer.
It was one of the first 3D printers in the world 3D that was available to the wider community. We still have the same view on our products, however our offer now consists of many more printers,
We do not only have 3D printers that are capable of printing with thermoplastics, so called FDM 3D printers, but also resin 3D printers that are able to print with liquid resin. We also have many external devices in our offer that are used in post-processing of 3D prints.
Our devices are used by very well-known players on the global market, I’m especially proud of our collaboration with NASA. Our 3D printers are used at the NASA Johnson Space Centre.
They are used to prototype parts of lunar landers, parts of the space station. We also cooperate with universities, especially medical universities, our printers are used during education of new medics, but also during preparations for surgeries, like a heart surgery for example, you can print a model of a heart and prepare for the heart surgery.
Last year, we released our first industrial 3D printer, which is capable of printing with the use of more sophisticated materials that can be used for example in the aerospace industry, and last year thanks to that 3D printer, we conducted, in cooperation with the European Space Agency, ground-breaking research.
Our 3D printer was able to print with the use of special polymers which are capable of conducting electricity, in such 3D prints. What’s more, such materials are also resistant to cosmic radiation, so they can be used in producing satellites, spacecrafts and so on.
We are not slowing down, this year we’re going to release our first dental 3D printer which is capable of printing tooth implants, orthodontic braces, surgical guides and so on.
We are now a public-listed company, we are listed on New Connect, on the Warsaw Stock Exchange for tech companies and we are not slowing down.
What brought us here? Unfortunately, I think it’s a mixture of bravery and luck, luck – because some of the decisions that we made would not be possible to do right now.
For example, issuing bonds, corporate bonds are practically impossible right now due to changes in the legal system.
Bravery – because I think you have to be brave to start a company in one of the poorest regions of Poland and dream about reaching the stars.
Thanks to our cooperation with NASA and ESA, we are literally reaching the stars right now. You have to care for your employees, because without those innovative minds we wouldn’t be in the place we are right now, and you have to constantly focus on innovations, because in such a fast-growing market, without innovations you will simply lose.
What can we learn from our history? I’m not sure. I think that we need to create an innovation-friendly environment to have more tech companies like ours.
We have a lot of innovative people, we have to support young people who are willing to change the world.
We have to support out of the box thinking and by creating such an environment we can change the world. Thank you.