This new-wave technology is opening doors in dessert decoration, nutrition, food customization and more
When you’re hungry, you probably head for the kitchen, open the fridge or pantry, and whip up whatever you can find. But what if you could print delicious food, design elegant desserts, and take control of your nutrition with specific, regimented recipes pumped out by a robot? With Columbus startup BeeHex’s NASA-inspired 3D food printer system, complex dessert designs, personalized nutrition, and personalized pizzas aren’t too far away.
“We’ve developed the future of food with on-demand food printing. There’s nothing quite like it out there,” said Ben Feltner, co-founder and COO of BeeHex. “We’re solving several problems in the food industry in addition to creating a platform to help control your diet down to the last ingredient. Our machines take the tedious work out of the kitchen. There are single-function food design machines out there, but they’re massive and operate in high-volume factories. Our 3D dessert decorator machines are built for smaller-scale operations. We’re talking about bringing it into the bakery, the store and eventually, even the home.”
In 2016, BeeHex co-founder Anjan Contractor was developing 3D food-printing technology as part of a NASA research project funded by a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant. NASA wanted to upgrade the food its astronauts ate on deep space missions, so it turned to Contractor and a team of experts to design a bot which could whip up delicious, hot food easily. After successfully completing phase one, proving the concept and attracting national press, funding was unexpectedly cut. The BeeHex team believed in the product, so it prepared for commercialization in spite of the setback.
“I think it was just a matter of realizing how the technology fit in the food market. With Anjan’s tech, we had the ability to disrupt an entire industry and change the way people think of food forever,” said Feltner. “It was a no-brainer when we talked about it: something this consequential needed to go to market.”
Following the initial prototype, BeeHex technology came to the attention of Jim Grote, the founder of Donatos and Grote Company. Grote saw the technology’s potential as much more than just a pizza printer, but rather, a device that could open new doors in diet customization and longevity. Following his support and investment, the team decided to pack up from Houston and move to central Ohio. Since their arrival in 2017, the team has leaned on Rev1 Ventures, an Ohio Third Frontier partner in Columbus, to meet like-minded founders, connect with investors and further develop their technology.
“We were so used to life in Texas, where most investors are focused on real estate and energy. In Columbus, our vision has resonated, and we’re just really loving it here,” said Feltner. “It feels cliché to say, but the Midwestern hospitality is real. People are so receptive to new ideas and willing to help that it feels like you could build anything here. I think as access to software development talent continues to grow, Columbus will quickly be considered a top tier place for startups, especially those working in robotics.”