3D printing technology has been around for decades and has a common association with industrial uses in the medical, dental, and engineering fields, among others. As its capabilities have evolved, 3D printing is now being adapted for other areas, with new, commercial ways of utilizing the technology. Akron startup Lightscreen Art is taking that evolution one step further, by leveraging digital manufacturing technology like 3D printers and laser cutters to create and design an innovative, customizable alternative to stained glass.
“The whole idea came out of, what if you built pans out of acrylic that you then laser cut as window coverings,” President Ron Seide said. “I’ve always had a fascination with art, and I built my career in technology for more than 30 years. Laser cutters and 3D printers shine in terms of custom products, dimensions, colors, and shapes, and they’re great for building up something that’s relatively flat.”
Seide’s idea evolved from simple window coverings to 3D-printed, acrylic alternatives for stained glass windows, called lightscreens. In order to bring the idea and business to life, he knew that he would need a team of people with intimate knowledge of 3D printing technologies. Seide reached out to the CoLab at Ohio University to connect with students active in the makerspace. That’s how he met Willow Mattison.
“Ron had this idea of using digital manufacturing technologies to create dynamic products for people to allow for this mass customization in ways that we have never seen before,” Vice President of Operations Willow Mattison said. “Ron had been working on a couple iterations of the project, and when I joined the team we were trying to make sure that the technology could do what we imagined it could. It was an uphill battle, but now we’ve had the opportunity to launch and put this out into the world.”
Customers can create their own design or choose from a variety of pre-designed lightscreen options on the startup’s website, as well as access tutorials on how to measure their window when making their selection.
“Once you’ve input the dimensions of your window into our system, you can select a template,” Seide said. “We then automatically size the template to the dimensions of the window. We have different designs that will compliment a broad range of decor and our palette of colors corresponds to our inventory of acrylic sheets. Through our web interface, our production fits your window exactly, compliments your decor, and matches your color scheme.”
The startup has been able to raise funding through Kickstarter as its website launched, but both Seide and Mattison highlighted that support from Bounce Innovation Hub, a partner of Ohio Third Frontier in Akron, has been crucial in helping the company scale its business and thrive, while also fostering an entrepreneurial partnership between the two organizations.
“The biggest contribution they’ve given us is networking and connecting us with people who are passionate about helping others succeed,” Mattison said. “We’ve been working with our entrepreneur in residence to brainstorm marketing ideas and find our target audience. Bounce has been extremely valuable for giving us a point of contact as a small business to ask questions.”
As a woman in STEM who transitioned from the field of Biology to running operations for digital manufacturing technologies with Lightscreen Art as a part owner, Mattison is passionate about working with Ohio organizations like Bounce to empower other women and diverse communities to explore leadership roles in the realms of entrepreneurship and tech, and grow their skills while branching out of their comfort zones.
“I have been in STEM for as long as I can remember, and the biggest piece of advice I give people is to be willing to ask questions,” she said. “Find and engage with a team that can foster your growth, support your ideas, and help you learn along the way. If you feel a little uncomfortable, that’s a good indication that you’re headed in the right direction, that you’re challenging and applying yourself, especially in fields where you’re doing things that haven’t been done before.”