We’ve all had those dream-big conversations with our roommates — a 2 AM conversation about how we can instigate change, leave our mark on the world. The difference between the average dreamer and Trideo, an Argentine 3D printing start-up, however, is that its founders put their ideas into action. A mere three years after its founding, Trideo has amassed impressive success as a 3D printer and service support firm, and is innovating in the bio-printing market. As partners with the Foundation for the Fight Against Infantile Neurological Diseases (FLENI), they are fitting 3D printers with biologically-compatible modifications to print human tissues, using bio-ink with live cells as the building material.
Nicolas Berenfeld, founder and Belgian ex-patriot living in Buenos Aires, explains Trideo’s serendipitous start: “I met Laurent here in Argentina when he moved into the same flat I was sharing with other friends… We didn’t come to Argentina to start this business. Let’s say it’s a consequence of life. We were both in love with the country and looking to start a new venture.” Along with Berenfeld, Laurent Rodriguez, a French ex-patriot, and his tech associate back in France, Simon Gabriac, became the founders of Trideo.
The road to today’s innovation was not as romantic as a 2 AM wine-chat, however. At first, the firm started working with open-source models, where the build and coding information for the printers was available for free online. This allowed them a “Cheaper way to test the market quickly,” and helped them realize user-friendly, service-supported 3D printers models are the market to which they wanted to cater. And really, the rest is history. With a growing, diverse list of clients, Trideo is able to expand its applications across non-traditional industries (although Berenfeld envisions 3D printing application will be realized across all industries in time).
That’s where FLENI comes into play. FLENI is an Argentine non-profit “Dedicated to the prevention, diagnosis, assistance and investigation of neurological diseases.” It’s main pillars involve research, treatment, and education. In partnership with Trideo, they are using 3D printing machinery, fitted with biologically-appropriate components, to construct living human tissues. Together, their hope is that with continued research the products can transfer to clinical trials and eventually be legally approved for treatment throughout Argentina.
Bio-Printing: The Process
In theory, bio-printing is similar to traditional 3D printing, except with a few substitutions. A digital design is uploaded to a printer, and then successive layers of the building material are released from extruders until the design is achieved. The main differences in bio-printing are the extruders and the building material.
Trideo’s bio-printer uses two syringes instead of the usual plastic extruders because of the syringes’ extreme precision. And precision is important, since the syringes deliver living human cells, shaping them into whatever structure is desired. Although the changes caused some hiccups at first, like adapting the equipment to meet a higher level of accuracy, the printing process has taken shape — quite literally, as seen in the ear above.
Berenfeld describes the evolution of bio-printing, where it started and where they are now: “[The] first technique is usually to print a 3D scaffold with bio-material and then add to this structure the human cells, enabling in-vitro proliferation. [The] Second technique is where we are right now, and it consists of printing with a bio-ink [to create] a bio-material that already contains human cells.” Printing using this technique takes anywhere from 15 minutes to two hours, depending on the structure. From there the cells must proliferate from a gel to cartilage, which can take several weeks.
And that’s not all. Trideo envisions even more advancements with bio-printer technology: [The] third technique is a lot more complex. The objective is to print [a] structure that could replace organs, using multiple syringes with different bio-inks so that each one of them can print a different part of [the] organ.”
There is a long way to go, however, before such a technique can be utilized in treatment. The largest barrier Trideo anticipates is the legality of grown body parts. In Argentina, there is no law established for bio-printing. Berenfeld says, “We, as a country, need to define from scratch the legal environment around [bio-printing].”
What’s Next in 3D Printing?
“[3D-printing] is a new technology, probably the most disruptive one since the internet, but we are still at the beginning of its development… the 3D printer you see today is like the computer you could see in the 80’s.”
So while 3D printing is a newborn in the tech world, and its diverse applications only just being realized, Berenfeld says 3D printing education is vital to the development of the industry and the guarantee of its survival: “We can’t be thinking only about selling more printers to people with unrealistic expectations… we need to educate people, tell them what is possible and what is not… that is the only way to create value on a long-term basis.”
Following modern waves of social entrepreneurship, Trideo has developed an educational DIY 3D printer, called Printbox Kit, designed to allow learners to “get a grasp on basic mechanical, electronic and coding knowledge.” As more companies realize the possibilities 3D printing allows them, there will be a greater need for educated youth in the labor market. Trideo “[Believes] the younger generation needs to be in contact with this technology as early as possible in order to develop their 3D skills.”
Advice for New Start-ups
Berenfeld gives pending start-ups this piece of advice: “Do not wait to feel you’re ready to jump in and launch your product. You will never feel that you are ready enough, and you will probably get it wrong on your first try. Jump in, see what happens and learn from it. You will learn a lot more doing that than if you keeping on doing market analysis with excel sheets.”
Instead of analyzing the situation to death, Trideo took advantage of network contacts and cheap initial build open-source models to test the market in real time. Genuine feedback allowed them to more quickly develop their “Own 3D printer model with a special focus on the user experience,” an element they found “fundamental to spread this technology.” The first two months after launching their product, they weren’t sure if they were going to make it — two rents due without income is always a risky business. But then a turning point came, and they have been generating more and more disruptive noise since.
While still a fresh company, Trideo is a motivational example for tech start-ups in Argentina to come. As border importation policy loosens, Trideo hopes to spread to Brazil, Columbia and Peru. Eventually, they hope to be “3D printing’s first major actor in [Latin America].”