ANU researchers and Syenta founders Professor Luke Connal and Jekaterina Viktorova are revolutionising the future of 3D printing.

It started with a eureka moment, a late-night email and a dash to the lab for proof of concept.

Now, Syenta founders Professor Luke Connal and CEO Jekaterina Viktorova’s research is revolutionising the future of 3D printing.   

Syenta (formerly Spark3D) has developed a 3D printing technology platform that enables true multi-material printing and aims to transform electronics manufacturing.

It has raised $3.7 million in seed funding from Blackbird, Jelix Ventures and Brindabella Capital to drive production of its fast, efficient, multi-material 3D printers.

“The funding means everything to us. We can hire software engineers, pay the students who have been involved in the project, and it gives us the resources to deliver the product to our customers,” says Jekaterina.

Jekaterina says her life changed when she joined Professor Connal’s research group as a PhD student at The Australian National University (ANU) in February 2019.

It’s not often a student teams up with their professor to start a new business, but both say it felt like a partnership from day one.

Syenta has developed a multi-material 3D printer. Photo: Jamie Kidston/ANU

Both Professor Connal and Jekaterina have a background in electrochemistry, electronics and 3D printing, but their work really stepped up when Professor Connal, who specialises in polymer chemistry, came up with a new way of depositing multiple materials.

“He sent me an email with this idea one night and I knew it was a game changer,” she says. 

“The next day we went into the lab and did a first proof of concept, and it worked.”

Jekaterina says she immediately understood that Professor Connal’s method would change the landscape of 3D printing.

“We can now 3D print more than plastics. This method allows us to print metal, semi-conductors and conducted plastics and polymers,” she says.

“It uses electrochemistry for its deposition, so it’s also faster and more efficient. We’re converting dissolved material into solid material without using temperature or light.

“The way electronics are currently made is mostly subtractive, removing layers of material that generates waste, whereas we only add the material that we need. That’s more sustainable, generates less waste, and you skip on all these steps of material removal.”

From developing the tech to pitching to investors, Jekaterina says the progress they’ve made in recent months has been thanks to the support network created through the Canberra Innovation Network and ANU.

“It’s pretty great to be a start-up in Canberra right now – 10 years ago, we wouldn’t have been able to do this at the speed we have,” she says.

“I have had mentors all around me, from other start-up founders who provided a sounding board, to Luke supporting my work, and that whole ecosystem that formed around us, with daily feedback – we couldn’t have done it without that.”

Success takes a lot of personal determination, too. During lockdown and following hail damage to the research school, Jekaterina moved the 3D printer to her kitchen table, giving Silicon Valley start-up-in-the-garage vibes.

“I wanted so desperately to work on my passion project but couldn’t get to my printer – I knew the only way I’d get to work on it was if I took it home, so I shared my kitchen with it for months,” she says.

Syenta already has its first industrial customer, GreatCell Energy, which is using its 3D printing methods to both reduce costs and enable new kinds of solar cells.

“What could be better than a company developing environmentally friendly devices that could not be otherwise made, using the materials that we provide?” Jekaterina says.

“This means we can offer value to our customers today and focus on delivering this tech to even more people, not only in Australia but worldwide.”

Top image: Syenta Chief Scientific Officer Professor Luke Connal and CEO Jekaterina Viktorova. Photo: Jamie Kidston/ANU

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