By: Lauren Arendt
A local San Luis Obispo startup, Mantis Composites, is reinventing the tech industry with 3D printing. Looking at this four-year-old company now as it works with government entities and truly takes off, one would never believe that Mantis Composites was founded in its entirety by a group of college students on the Cal Poly campus.
Mantis Composites takes parts traditionally made out of machined metals and 3D prints them out of continuous carbon fiber. This not only allows Mantis Composites to manufacture the lightest parts per unit weight available in aerospace and automotive markets but also allows for shapes that would otherwise be impossible to make. This cutting-edge technology has led Mantis Composites to work with government bodies such as the U.S. Department of Defense.
CEO and Cofounder of Mantis Composites Ryan Dunn explained that the company truly came to fruition on the Cal Poly campus while utilizing the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) resources.
“We got involved with the CIE really early in the business,” Dunn said. “In the first two years, CIE resources and support were the primary drivers of what we were doing.”
The group of students that would eventually launch Mantis Composites began their entrepreneurial journey on the Cal Poly campus at the Innovation Sandbox, a CIE on-campus program where students can experiment with world-class technology and test their ideas on their own time, at their own pace, and for no added cost to their tuition. Utilizing the 3D printers at the Innovation Sandbox and collaborating with other students and advisors, the Mantis Composites team was able to run initial tests and validate their ideas. This validation gave them the boost of motivation they needed to jump to the next step in developing their startup.
From the Innovation Sandbox, the team of students went straight to the Summer Accelerator in 2015, a 13 week-long program in the SLO HotHouse where students are given $10,000 and guidance from mentors to help convert their entrepreneurial dreams into tangible realities. In the duration of the program, Mantis Composites was able to solidify their ideas and gear up for the next steps in building their company from the ground up.
Next came the Hatchery, an on-campus hub for students to collaborate with each other and receive guidance from mentors, professors and esteemed alumni. Such a complex startup demanded that the team pool all of the resources possible to build an action plan.
After realizing that funding would be a key factor in obtaining the equipment necessary to launch their startup, the Mantis Composites team entered and competed in the Innovation Quest competition not once, but two times, finishing in first place their second time around. Dunn said that the money awarded to Mantis Composites from Innovation Quest was key, as it was much more flexible than government grants. This flexibility allowed the team to acquire the equipment they needed to launch in a timely fashion.
“The CIE was really important in founding the key aspects of what our company is today,” said Dunn. “We did things a little out of order but worked with the CIE a lot for about two years which really helped us launch our company.”
Mantis Composites and the success they have experienced over the past four years speaks to the unlimited potential for students at Cal Poly to pursue their entrepreneurial dreams. With the support of the CIE’s many resources dedicated to student success, no goal is too large and no student is too young to start on the path toward launching a startup.