This article appeared in the June, 2014 edition of Venture.
Armed with groundbreaking software designed to make 3D printing easier, Mixed Dimensions Inc. CEO Muhannad Taslaq aims to dominate an emerging technology sector that’s revolutionizing manufacturing as we know it.
By Sadad Talhouni
Mixed Dimensions Inc. was initially founded as a gaming content provider in Jordan in 2009 by Muhannad Taslaq and Bahaa Abu Nojaim. After failing to get a foothold in the tough sector, the programmers decided to see if the complex design software they created could be repurposed for everyday users in rapidly burgeoning 3D printing markets abroad. The gamble appears to have paid off handsomely, and Mixed Dimensions now has offices in California and recently attracted just under $1 million in funding.
Why did you decide to switch your company’s focus to 3D printing?
3D printing is going to revolutionize everything in our lives. You don’t have to mass manufacture anymore, you only print when it is needed. In the medical field, for example, people have started printing stem cells, kidneys, and heart valves. In the long run, you won’t need donors for transplants anymore. It will reach a point, and this is something we envision with our company as well, where a huge design library will exist to print everything you need with your own printer. 3D printers are also going to bring back the ability for entrepreneurs to tinker and create things in their garages. At Mixed Dimensions, we’ve always wanted to tackle markets other than gaming. When we learned about 3D printing, we found that, just like in gaming, there are a lot of people who don’t know how to create three dimensional models. And this aligned with our experience catering to such people.
You say your MXD3D modeling tool allows pretty much anyone to easily create a printable 3D shape. How does the software work exactly?
We developed MXD3D to give users an end-to-end solution. You create a model, test to make sure it is printable, and print it. You can also share your designs with people in our community and buy and sell your models. We tried to make designing with MXD3D very similar to Microsoft’s Paint program. You have basic tools to use for drawing, and once you finish you can lift it into a 3D elevation. After completely finishing the model, you send it to one of three printing companies: Sculpteo, iMaterialise, or Shapeways. The company allows you to choose the materials you want to print with and how much it will cost. It then prints your model and sends it to you. We’re providing a tool that people need to print in 3D. If we execute it will, I can safely say that we can be one of the big fish in the industry in the coming few months.
What makes your software unique?
First of all, it’s a cross-platform tool. It runs on browsers, PCs, Android and iOS platforms. We’ve also designed a printability feature which detects if the model is really printable. It is built on an artificially intelligent algorithm which detects problems with the model and fixes them. We’re implementing our software as an enterprise solution, where our technology will be embedded on the website of our customers. Imagine yourself as IKEA, and people go to your website, customize your models to suit their preference and you print it for them. In a way, we’re engaging our customers’ customers. We have around 15 companies lined up for this feature so far, some of which deal with the food and fashion industry.
Mixed Dimensions passed through the Alchemist Accelerator in the United States. What did you learn from the experience?
The most important thing we learned from the Alchemist Accelerator is how to think like a global company. We stopped thinking in a local, regional manner. We also learned the value of networking. You can’t go anywhere without having someone to back you up. You have to tap into the market, get advisors, and reach people. And it’s not just about the idea. You’re not the only one with the greatest idea in the world. It’s about the execution. We’re not Stanford graduates and we never worked at Google. One of us studied at the Ahliyyeh University and the other in Philadelphia. In order to impress investors and capture their interest, we showed that we had a feasible idea, a strong advisory board that believed in the company, and a passionate and reliable execution team with experience in such an industry.
Having worked in the tech sector in both Jordanian and American markets, how would you say they differ?
You’re talking about totally different market environments and consumer behaviors. The States has a consumer driven market. As long as you give them something that makes their life easier, they will take it. In Jordan people are reluctant. They like to see the real value of what they are buying before they try it. We’re not early adopters; there is a lot of rejection towards new stuff. In terms of talent, however, we have plenty. The hype over startups was a bubble that burst, and this is a good thing. Success will be built on their failures. A lot of emerging entrepreneurs are now going to America for experience. A year ago, there were around three or four Jordanian-based companies in the States. Now there are 15. The ecosystem in Jordan still needs work.
And how do you believe it can be improved?
The government needs to do more to support startups. For example, the Central Bank of Lebanon supports entrepreneurs by matching the investments that any venture capitalist makes. For angel investors and venture capitalists to put in money, they have to feel secure. Our education system is good, but we need more success stories like Souq.com. In terms of 3D printing, there are currently no regulations for 3D printing in Jordan. You can’t get a printer into the country because what it can do is still not defined. We’re in talks with USAID to try and support bringing in 3D printers to the country. We are trying to build a facility with 3D printers to engage people and spread awareness about it.