UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — 3D printing, or additive manufacturing, as it’s more formally known, has enabled innovations in manufacturing and production. However, it’s also contributing to the 8.3 billion metric tons of plastic waste that's been generated since 1950. Penn State startup Trimatis LLC believes it can help combat this problem by converting plastic waste into 3D printing filament.
Trimatis was founded at Penn State Berks by recent mechanical engineering graduate Jason Lehrer, current electro-mechanical engineering technology student Tito E. Orjih, and Penn State Berks engineering faculty member Marietta R. Scanlon. After seeing the plastic waste generated by 3D printers and then also seeing litter on streets in Philadelphia, the team was motivated to launch the startup.
“During my environmental stewardship internship, I witnessed a copious amount of plastic waste littering the streets of Philadelphia,” said Orjih. “Where people saw trash, I saw an opportunity to build a business and help the environment.”
Learning to build a business and product based on work developed in a lab was brand new to Lehrer, but Orjih had some entrepreneurial experience from when he launched a clothing brand called HipGnie Apparel. Despite their minimal experience in business, Orjih and Lehrer applied for the 2018 PennTAP Inc.U competition.
“We had to turn an idea that was proven in a lab into a business in a short period of time. A lot of time was spent looking into the market to see if this would be a viable business,” said Lehrer.
The team members believe the positive pressure placed on them helped them to solidify their ideas and focus on their main objective.
“We prepared by doing a lot of pitch practices in front of different people with different perspectives,” Orjih said. “Each practice pitch helped us address our mistakes and helped us understand how to adjust our pitch based on the audience.”
After pitching to investors at Inc.U, Lehrer and Orjih pitched their company from the main stage of the sold out 2018 Invent Penn State Venture & IP Conference. The audience was packed with enthusiastic investors from around the country and the experience left a mark on Trimatis.
“Another humbling experience,” Orjih said. “The best part was networking with people from the crowd who generally loved what we were doing and wanted to support us."
Starting a business is always challenging, and particularly so for full-time students, but through the Invent Penn State initiative there is tremendous opportunity for support and development. In the last three years 21 innovation hubs have been funded across the Commonwealth as part of the initiative and President Eric Barron’s push to expand entrepreneurial resources for Penn State students and Pennsylvanians at large.
“The education and resources Penn State has provided have been instrumental to the development of the company,” said Scanlon. “The research Jason conducted during his participation in the Multi-Campus REU program sparked the idea. In addition, the Langan Launchbox, Penn State Berks' innovation hub funded by the Invent Penn State grant, has provided countless resources to ensure the team's success.”
Scanlon is quick to point out how supportive the faculty at Penn State Berks and at Langan LaunchBox have been of the team. Sadan Kulturel-Konak, professor of management information systems and ENTI minor coordinator, and Solange Israel-Mintz, project manager at Langan LaunchBox, helped Trimatis develop its pitches and attended all of its events to cheer the team on.
As for what’s next? Trimatis is continuing to develop its business and was recently selected as one of 10 finalists in Lancaster’s Great Social Enterprise Pitch — an idea incubator and business plan competition for startups whose business models have a positive social or environmental impact. The team has been participating in the incubator all summer and is now in the crowdfunding portion of the competition.
“We plan to keep progressing, improving on our process, marketing and developing connections with people who will be assets to the company,” said Lehrer.
“Our eyes are on the official launch day,” Orjih added. “Our goal is to launch by Jan. 31, so we are taking the proper steps needed to finally be in business.”