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Looking Back at 10 Years of 3YOURMIND: An Oral History

Blog Devin Culham | June 25, 2024 | 10 min read

3YOURMIND co-founders Aleksander Ciszek and Stephan Kühr reflect on ten years of additive manufacturing software innovation.

When 3YOURMIND co-founders Aleksander Ciszek and Stephan Kühr checked into a youth hostel in Eastern Europe in 2012, they didn’t expect that it would change the trajectory of their lives.

“I met Aleks in a hostel while traveling the world,” says co-founder Stephan Kühr. “He was going west, and I was going east, and we met in that hostel by coincidence and quickly became friends.”

The two young men sparked a conversation about the exciting and newly accessible subject of 3D printing. Like a seed, the conversation grew, and not long after, Kühr relocated to Berlin to start looking for more ways to gain knowledge about 3D printing. At that time, Ciszek began seriously considering what a future with 3D printing might look like.

“After I finished my studies, all of my peers were going to companies at consulting firms and investment banks, and I realized I didn’t really want to do that,” says Ciszek. “I was more fascinated by hands-on things and the entrepreneurial spirit. So, for that reason, I was thinking, what else can we do?”

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Pictured left to right: Co-founders Aleksander Ciszek and Stephan Kühr launched 3YOURMIND in 2014.

Laying the Groundwork for 3YOURMIND

In 2013, enthusiasm around 3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, was at its peak. Soon, the two men found an opportunity to gain hands-on experience from experts at the Technical University in Berlin.

“Being in the 3D printing laboratory and seeing how this great technology allows freedom of design was fascinating; to see all these different shapes that otherwise could not be produced,” says Ciszek. “But we also realized that few people in the market used it for meaningful things. Usually, it was very eccentrically designed parts used to decorate the professor's desk.”

This stuck out to Ciszek and Kühr. Engineers needed a way to access this technology to learn how to design 3D part applications.

“We wanted to educate engineers on new possibilities to maximize their efficiency so they could obtain parts much faster using new technology,” says Ciszek. “And we thought one way to do that was to give them tools to increase access and reduce barriers to understanding the technology.”

Ciszek and Kühr’s time at the Technical University of Berlin led to an opportunity to receive grant funding from the German government to start a business to accelerate the additive manufacturing industry. At the time, rideshare services like Uber and Lyft were gaining momentum in cities worldwide, and Ciszek and Kühr wanted to try a similar approach to 3D printing. They wanted to create a platform that could connect engineers to a 3D printing facility that could produce their prototypes.

“We thought a marketplace would be a good approach because we could educate people through a platform and give them immediate information about whether a part can be produced and at what price,” says Ciszek.

With grant funding secured, now things were getting more serious.

“Now we were dedicating 100% of our time to that one idea, and we had to start building it,” says Kühr. “Early on, we found Felix Bauer, [3YOURMIND’s current chief technology officer] an ambitious technology expert. He helped us build our first software platform.”

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Felix Bauer, 3YOURMIND's current Chief Technology Officer (pictured here in 2017), was fundamental to developing the first 3YOURMIND platform.

Shortly after, Kühr traveled to Munich to pitch the marketplace platform to investors and industry leaders.

“Over the weekend, Felix put together the first prototype of the platform, and I remember I was there an hour before the big pitch meeting, and it was still pretty buggy,” recalls Kühr.

Moments before the company’s biggest pitch to date, Kühr wasn’t sure if they could pull it off.

“We were on the phone, and of course, we were both nervous – ‘is this going to be ready in time to demo?’ and while I was there preparing for the pitch, Felix fixed it.”

Kühr went on to do a live demo for a wide audience in Munich, and the outcome forever changed the direction of 3YOURMIND.

“Afterward, one of the investment guys comes up to me and say, ‘Hey, I’ve hardly ever seen someone bold enough to do a live demo at a pitch,’” laughs Kühr.

The risky move, powered by bold decision-making – and perhaps, young entrepreneur naivete – paid off.

“He told me he’s never seen a 3D printing workflow that can do file upload, printability analysis, pricing, and material selection in just a minute or two,” says Kühr. “He was extremely impressed and became one of our first investors.”

With grant funding secured and new investors knocking on their door, Ciszek and Kühr needed to find a name for their project. The two entrepreneurs were attending a startup accelerator and were workshopping possibilities when they finally settled on the now-recognizable name.

“We wanted a name that somehow expresses free thinking and 3D printing,” says Ciszek. At some point in the workshop, someone shouted the idea 3YOURMIND, and the name stuck.” 

Graduating From Business Pitch to Growing Start-Up

With the name secured and the platform developed, 3YOURMIND began gaining clients immediately. But it wasn’t until EOS founder Hans Langer invested in the company that 3YOURMIND started to gain momentum. 

“We were exposed to some of the most important people in additive manufacturing right away,” says Ciszek.

Fast-forward to 2017. 3YOURMIND successfully had companies up and running on its marketplace platform, but Ciszek and Kühr recognized that the model wasn’t scaling. The duo attended every conference and every 3D printing event to talk to people in the industry, exhibit the platform, and get feedback.

“While doing that, we realized that the platform we’ve built was super interesting, and everybody loved it, but it was really difficult to build a business case around it in the B2C space,” says Kühr.

StephanKühr-2017Co-founder Stephan Kühr giving an early presentation on 3D printing in 2017.

That’s when a new opportunity came along from German auto manufacturer Volkswagen.

“At the beginning of 2017, I met the Volkswagen team, who saw what we do and mentioned that they love the functionalities and tools we built,” reflects Ciszek. They requested we provide them with software for their internal process management with the same functionalities, which isn’t something our product could do at the time."

At that moment, Ciszek and Kühr realized they had to pivot. 

"So basically, we had to go from cloud to on-premise installation," says Ciszek.

Though challenging then, this pivot to on-premise software that could integrate into an enterprise’s existing workflows became a major catalyst for the business and foreshadowed the company's future direction.

“We proved the technology and proof of value, but now it was time to expand,” says Ciszek.

Ciszek and Kühr recognized that for 3YOURMIND to scale, it would need to enter the market that understood the risks and rewards of early investment into innovative technology: the United States.

Positioning 3YOURMIND as a Solution for the Defense and Energy Sectors

Though strategic, the move to the U.S. came by chance.

“One night, I was browsing the internet and saw an accelerator program designed to help German companies enter the U.S.,” says Kühr. “And I thought, ‘That’s so cool, let me just quickly apply here, and we can always decide later if we actually go.’”

Kühr’s late-night browsing paid off: the company was accepted into the accelerator program, and in 2018, Ciszek and Kühr were in the United States.

Once the accelerator program ended, Ciszek opted to stay in the U.S. longer after being invited to join StartX, a start-up accelerator hosted by the prestigious Stanford University in California. There, Ciszek started interacting with U.S. companies and began to understand the needs of the U.S. market better. 

Alexandre - HeadshotAlexandre Donnadieu was a key asset in developing 3YOURMIND's footprint in the United States.

The addition of Alexandre Donnadieu, currently chief commercial officer, brought a new focus to the U.S. business, quickly winning 3YOURMIND major customers like Ford Motor Company. Shortly after, Donnadieu brought on William Cuervo, now vice president of sales, to help grow the U.S. footprint. Donnadieu and Cuervo, who both possess military backgrounds, understood that the defense market offered an opportunity.

“We quickly realized that one of the biggest advocates of digital spare parts adoption and implementation of modern manufacturing technologies was the Department of Defense,” says Ciszek.

In 2019, 3YOURMIND landed its first defense contract with the U.S. Navy Naval Warfare Information Center, Pacific (NIWC), marking a new era for the five-year-old company. With the contract came excitement and a refocused energy to meet customer expectations. Now, 3YOURMIND was in the big leagues.

“I think there is also part of being proud to work with such big organizations who are willing to test out new technologies, especially in 2019, when the concept of digital spare parts was very forward-looking,” says Ciszek.

From this point on, the core of 3YOURMIND’s business model has stemmed from a persistent vision of enabling global enterprises to print digital spare parts on demand. The company, now beyond its initial marketplace platform, now provides software that supports the needs of maintenance repair organizations (MROs), original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), and contract manufacturers. In this respect, 3YOURMIND’s expertise shines by providing technical and economic feedback on part designs, price quotes, and production estimates. 

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Pictured: William Cuervo, 3YOURMIND's VP of Sales North America, presented at the Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton in California in 2023.

In 2023, 3YOURMIND kicked off a two-year project with the U.S. Marine Corps.’ Advanced Manufacturing Systems (AMS) to analyze 10,000 parts for additive manufacturing compatibility. In the project's first year, 3YOURMIND software identified 300 suitable parts for AM. AMS prioritized 30 of those parts for AM optimization and will begin printing and testing those parts on equipment in the field this year.

“Right now, this vision is being executed by several organizations, and the goal is to make it a global standard, a standardized global digital inventory, if you will,” says Ciszek.

Keeping Sights Set on the Future

Ten years in, Ciszek and Kühr feel more confident about the trajectory of 3YOURMIND’s future. They have witnessed the ebbs and flows of the additive manufacturing industry, from the height of excitement in the early 2010s to today’s more pragmatic and calculated approach to 3D printing.  At the same time, they have also seen the continued commitment from government organizations like the U.S. Department of Defense to modernize manufacturing so that digital spare parts aren’t just a concept but a shared reality.

“At first, the fascination of additive technology and the mismatch between the potential and current potential drove us to start 3YOURMIND,” reflects Ciszek. “And it later translated into a desire to educate the market. But in this process, we learned and developed ourselves too.”

AleksanderCiszek-WEFFounder Aleksander Ciszek attending the World Economic Forum's Special Meeting on Global Collaboration Growth and Energy for Development in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. April 2024.

In the future, Ciszek doesn’t think 3YOURMIND will be remembered for educating the market but for its role in pushing technology forward.

“If you understand the story, 3YOURMIND’s story, you will understand that the company always was, and will continue to enable engineers to use new technologies,” states Ciszek. “And therefore, we will continue to have an educational function to promote manufacturing innovation.”


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