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Photo by Owen CL on Unsplash. A view of Denver’s Union Station, with towers rising in the background.

Lessons from DEF Denver 2018

Dan Downs
Dan Downs
Jan 7, 2019 · 3 min read


  • In Fall 2018, R3 Printing attended the Defense Entrepreneurs Forum National Conference in Denver, Colorado.

An Unexpected Invitation

In Fall 2018, R3 Printing attended the Defense Entrepreneurs Forum National Conference in Denver, Colorado. The event provided us with great insight into an ecosystem looking to rapidly grow in its exposure to cutting-edge technologies.

Our road to attendance was an unexpected one.

Back in Spring 2018, R3 Printing was invited to a private additive manufacturing event in New Haven, Connecticut. With guests primarily drawn from early-stage companies, the event provided great networking across different verticals in the 3D printing and lean manufacturing industries. Companies from across the additive manufacturing landscape were in attendance.

While there, we had the opportunity to speak with senior tech sector entrepreneurs who were US military veterans. They observed that the value proposition of the R3 Printer was aligned with what certain US military stakeholders are currently looking for in a 3D printer — fast, robust, and optimized for challenging operational-environment needs.

They suggested we check out the Defense Entrepreneurs Forum, a nonprofit organization that advocates for innovation in the national security sector. DEF provides crucial infrastructure for bridging the gap between the tech sector and the defense industry.

Our early engagement with DEF was incredibly instructive. DEF’s Community Development Director Jeremy McCoy provided us with a helpful overview of the DEF organization and suggested specific defense technology communities to look into for help.

DEF community members were also of great assistance. Adam Beal and Conrad Holloman of DEF’s Boston chapter pointed us to different defense sector organizations and specific opportunities. New York MD5’s Dan Madden provided helpful information about the Department of Defense’s venture landscape.

Based on these conversations, it was clear that attendance to the DEF National Conference would provide us with a unique opportunity to learn about a business ecosystem that was deeply interested in 3D printing.

We gained the following insights during our time in Denver.

Changing Culture

The US military is working assiduously to better expose itself to early-stage technologies. Senior military stakeholders understand the importance of early-stage technology cultivation for the maintenance of US military technological superiority. With the rise of multiple concurrent technologies that may have a dramatic impact on future war-fighting ability — 3D Printing, AI/ML, Advanced Materials, AR/VR, and Autonomous Systems, among others — the US military is moving quickly to maximize for as-soon-as-possible technology exposure.

Specialized Needs

The US military is not able to easily adopt some specific off-the-shelf technologies and products given specialized operational needs. US military users will often have different product needs than commercial sector users. Getting specific technologies for US military operational use often takes significant time as businesses execute through the challenging process of adapting commercial market products to military specifications.

Unique Business Ecosystem

The most unexpected insight came from conversations with current and former US military servicemen. Doing business with the government is often a high-lift proposition —for most small to medium sized businesses, either your business is focused on only selling to the government or it’s not.

Sprawling bureaucracy, rigid hierarchy, globally distributed counter-parties, and other many other challenges mean that getting specific US military organizations to adopt a new technology is often a daunting proposition. Global human resource logistics, extended supply chains, and secure transportation requirements all make post-sale operational follow-through an equally significant challenge.

Moving Forward

Though our business focus will remain unit sales to commercial market 3D Printing technology users, R3 Printing will continue to pull the thread on the prospect of partnership opportunities with specific US military stakeholders.

Though this is not a low-lift proposition, we perceive strong synergy here. We are confident that R3 Printing can overcome the execution hurdle, providing us with access to an ecosystem of strong growth partners and a robust defensive moat against competitors for specific defense sector-focused product-lines.

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