Ryan Dunn, Co-Founder and CEO of Mantis Composites, knew he wanted to be an entrepreneur when he came to Cal Poly as an Aerospace Engineering student. He had been dreaming up and building things since he was little – electric motorcycles, composite rockets, cargo scooters – but it wasn’t until he saw a 3D printer for the first time that he realized all of these things were ripe for improvement.
During his first week at Cal Poly, on a tour of campus, Ryan discovered the CIE’s Innovation Sandbox and saw a big opportunity. Along with several other students he met in the dorms and through Cal Poly Entrepreneurs club, he hatched a plan to apply for a small grant through the Innovation Sandbox and begin to explore the possibility of 3D printing carbon fiber composites. They caught the attention of Dr. Tom Katona, Assistant Professor of Innovation and Entrepreneurship and began to build what would ultimately become Mantis Composites.
After a few months and a few hundred dollars provided by the CIE, Ryan and his growing team developed some very basic hardware and software, just enough to apply to the CIE’s Summer Accelerator program. Much to their surprise, they were accepted, received another $10,000 and the opportunity to spend 13 weeks building their business alongside dozens of mentors, advisors, faculty and staff. The progress they made was impressive and on Demo Day, the culmination of the Summer Accelerator, they had a prototype of a 5-axis, 3D printer that could produce intricate parts that were stronger and lighter than any existing technology.
Over the next year, Ryan and his team continued to build and along the way, through participation in CIE’s programs, learned what it would take to turn a cool technology into a profitable business.
“We were four engineers who knew how to build complex technology, but we had no idea how to run a business,” Ryan explains. “The stepped approach that the CIE offered was incredible. Between the Innovation Sandbox, the Innovation Quest competition and the Summer Accelerator program, we went from idea, to prototype, to business in less than two years – all while we were full-time students.”
Over the past two years Ryan and his team have secured $450,000 in National Science Foundation grants and have raised nearly $500,000 in angel investment. They’ve hired their first three full-time employees and have landed some of the aerospace industries largest companies as their early customers.
“I can’t imagine where Mantis Composites would be without the CIE”, Ryan explains. “They took four founding engineers and turned us into business-capable people, and quickly. Since that time, we’ve looked at and applied to some of the most well-known startup accelerators in Silicon Valley and have yet to find one that is set up as well as the CIE. The CIE turns students into entrepreneurs.”
Today, Mantis Composites is bringing the advantages of carbon fiber composites to the most intricate of parts which, until recently, could only be made from machined metals. This has allowed their customers to bring about a new era of high performance machines and Mantis Composites founders to begin building the future of their dreams.