When you think about the location of 3D printing companies, it’s understandable you wouldn’t immediately think of Wollongong, but it’s now the base of Me3D, a manufacturer of Australian-made ‘student-friendly’ 3D printers. Here, Me3D co-founder Leanne Connelly explains what drew her to base her business in ‘The Gong’.

Me3D was founded in late 2013 and originally it was just three old university friends tinkering in the garage. We were trying to figure out how to show everyone the incredible possibilities of 3D printing. Me3D set out with the goal of designing the world’s best educational 3D printer, the Me2.

Today, we have launched a ground-breaking program, Seed3D, which helps Australian schools to ride the massive wave of growth in 3D printing and we are going to make sure this technology ends up in the hands of every kid, as early as possible. We are quickly expanding throughout the school networks – we’re already in more than 200 schools and have reached more than 120,000 students and you’ll find our printers all across the world. We’re establishing an exceptional reputation for being an inspiring company, and I credit being in Wollongong as integral to the success we’ve had at Me3D.

Our collaboration with local schools about this technology has also seen the development of the first-of-its-kind school programs. Just recently Scarborough Public School, a coastal primary school with over 70 students, set-up the “Enterprise” program.

The program aims to help kids learn entrepreneurial lessons and build their Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) skills with the end goal of starting business venturers. Old computer rooms are being transformed into ‘Makerspaces’ that harbour technologies such as 3D printers –impressively the whole program has been crowdfunded and led by Principal Chris Hopkins.

Traditional manufacturing is the largest sector in Wollongong, representing $7.9bn of industry output. Wollongong is home to a number of leading companies successfully competing in both domestic and international markets, such as BlueScope and MM Kembla. It makes sense, therefore, that a city such as Wollongong, which is so experienced in supporting these traditional manufacturing companies, is well-placed to support advanced manufacturing companies such as Me3D and can mobilise advanced manufacturing across Australia.

Advanced manufacturing employs around 11,000 people in Wollongong, which represents an 11% increase in the past 12 months. The city sees 600 students graduate from the University of Wollongong with an engineering-related degree annually, which is said to benefit from the city’s rich manufacturing legacy. In addition, there are experienced traditional manufacturing employees looking for a new challenge and to re-skill into advanced manufacturing. On a personal level, I started my career working in traditional manufacturing at Bluescope and it provided the bedrock to my move into advanced manufacturing.

Wollongong is also a fantastic place to get support if you’re an innovative start-up. Early on in the Me3D journey, we were accepted onto the iAccelerate programme. iAccelerate is a University of Wollongong (UOW) business incubator program which helps local start-ups to build and grow their business. iAccelerate includes a shared working space, a robust educational program and one-to-one mentoring. As the name suggests, the programme literally accelerated our business – it transformed Me3D from three friends tinkering in a garage to a legitimate enterprise with the focus, drive and support necessary to succeed.

There are some other regional hubs that are also set up to support advanced manufacturing companies but I feel, Wollongong is particularly well-placed (literally). Geographically, Wollongong is within easy access of Sydney for those necessary meetings and networking opportunities, but thanks to the NBN it also has global reach. As a business, we feel hugely supported in Wollongong, obviously by iAccelerate, but also by the Council, University and the broader manufacturing community.

Me3D is making waves in additive manufacturing. We made profit in our first year and have an abundance of both local and interstate customers. We’ve also started exporting our 3D printers internationally, to countries including Ireland, Finland, Malaysia and China. All of that is in no small part due to our location. So if you’re an additive manufacturing start-up you’d do well to consider basing your operations in a regional hub such as Wollongong.