Digital Harbor Foundation is giving away 3D printers, but there's a catch - Technical.ly Baltimore

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Jan. 16, 2015 9:13 am

Digital Harbor Foundation is giving away 3D printers, but there’s a catch

The catch? Students and educators have to come up with a business plan for their 3D printer. The Federal Hill-nonprofit wants to scale its maker-based education model nationally.

Perryville students, their 3D printer and their 3D-printed products at the Digital Harbor Foundation.

(Photo by Stephen Babcock)

The Digital Harbor Foundation is launching a new program that provides investment for youth clubs to acquire 3D printers, and start their own enterprises, founder Andrew Coy said Thursday.

The Perpetual Innovation Fund is backed by seed money from the Robert W. Deutsch Foundation, but Coy said the program aims to be self-sustaining, and he’s looking to take it national.

“We literally believe that 3D printers can pay for themselves,” Coy told a packed house at the Foundation’s Federal Hill Tech Center. The crowd was gathered for a showcase of student work to celebrate DHF’s second anniversary.

Under the initiative, students and educators submit business plans outlining how they will sell items they produce using 3D printers to make money. Accepted programs receive mentorship, training and a 3D printer. The initial money they make will go back to the program to cover the cost of the printers, which will then be used to fund start-up costs for another school.

“This perpetual funding cycle will then empower another club to start their own educator-led youth enterprise,” Coy said.

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Along with learning how to use the 3D printers, the program also requires the students to be entrepreneurial, as the business plan requires students to think about what they will create, and how they will and market the items. Judging by conversations a reporter had with a group of Perryville students who are the first to benefit from the program, they will also gain an understanding of the initiative’s pay-it-forward ethos.

The fund represents an effort by the Digital Harbor Foundation to scale its maker-based education model, which is designed to provide technology access to kids who otherwise lack it in their school curriculum. The nonprofit created a Center of Excellence last year to provide workshops and training. Now, they’re providing tools.

The enthusiasm for 3D printing was evident throughout the Tech Center on Thursday night, as students showed off their recent projects. Sixth-grader Adara Burke showed off a 3D-printed drum set that could make sounds through a computer program. Across the room, seventh-grader Angus Gatlin used the technology to create his own remote-control skateboard.

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Adara Burke prepares her 3D-printed drum set. (Photo by Stephen Babcock)

The students from Perryville, who participate in a local branch of a STEM and creative-oriented program called Destination Imagination, also know the 3D printing emphasis at the tech center firsthand, having built a 3D printer with the help of Digital Harbor Foundation staffers about a year ago.

Through the Perpetual Innovation Fund, they’re using multiple 3D printers to create phone cases, doorstops, engraved nameplates and 3D versions of doodles and artwork. With the help of an Xbox Kinect, they can even create action figures.

They plan to sell the items at lunchtime during school or at community nights to raise the funds that cover the costs of the 3D printers.

“We’re committed to raising the funds back so we can do the same thing for another school,” said Scott Dellosso, a Perryville Middle School teacher who coaches the Destination Imagination group. Dellosso added that the Digital Harbor programs have already led some of his students to “an excellent place.”

One alum, who is now in college, even has his own 3D printing business.

Digital Harbor hopes other educators will be telling the story nationally as a result of the initiative.

“What you see tonight, we want to see happen all over the place. We’re not at all jealous about who’s doing this stuff, as long as the kids get to do it,” Coy said. “In 2013 we launched, in 2014 we refined and, now, in 2015 we are scaling,” Coy said.

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Stephen Babcock

Stephen Babcock is Market Editor for Technical.ly Baltimore and Technical.ly DC. A graduate of Northeastern University, he moved to Baltimore following stints in New Orleans and Rio Arriba County, New Mexico. His work has appeared in The New York Times, Baltimore Fishbowl, NOLA Defender, NOLA.com/The Times-Picayune and the Rio Grande Sun.

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