Written by Deena Douara

chris_headshotIt’s the week his company, Mosaic Manufacturing, assembles and ships out their Palette – a product that has been two years in the making; a product that over 300 customers have prepaid for; a product that is poised to change the entire 3D printing industry.

With China announcing it wants to have 3D printers in every elementary school by 2017, that industry is nothing to sneeze at.

The problem the Palette solves is this: With most 3D printers, you can only print one colour, one filament type at a time. The ones that offer multiple colours are for industrial use at industrial prices, leaving other users to do their “clipping” manually – leaving imperfect trial-and-error results. The Palette is an independent body that connects to most existing printers and offers automated printing in up to four different colours or PLA (polylactic acid) filament types (e.g. conductive, magnetic, color-changing).

An experience co-founder Mitch Debora had as a student illustrates one appeal of 3D printing. While interning at an automotive company, he sent the best report he’d ever written to his boss. He waited for the accolades but heard nothing, until his boss saw him holding a model of the product in his hand. It was because of that prototype that he ended up in an important meeting with executives of the company that led to them embracing his idea.

Labelle lists some other specific use cases: magnetic terrarium tops; 3D logos; medical models; personalized souvenirs; knob replacements.

The Mosaic team – which includes cofounders Labelle, Debora and Derek Vogt – is concurrently working on an integrated component that 3D printer manufacturers could include as part of their system. Like the Intel chip, for printers. It is through this software-firmware-hardware innovation that Labelle gets excited about establishing a new industry standard.

“It’s very, very technically difficult,” Labelle tells me in trying to explain why no one else has created this product. “We met a lot of people who would tell us we had no idea how hard this is going to be, ‘you’re never going to do it.’ Thankfully they were wrong.”

The company is not the product of seasoned industry professionals. It’s the product of three committed cofounders who came together two weeks into the Queen’s Innovation Connector incubator program just after graduating from university there. Debora had run a 3D printing business and understood the market’s desire for multi-colour creations. The team eventually took home the top prize of $40,000 for their concept.

Labelle says the three meshed because they were all “very, very serious” about building a business. “The idea is important but the people are what’s gonna make the company amazing,” he explains.

It is his first foray into entrepreneurism and it was a summer internship in Beijing that sealed his fate. The benefactor of that Cansbridge Fellowship program, himself a serial entrepreneur, told Labelle: “Realistically you have six swings at bat before turning 40. If just one of them works you have complete freedom after that.”

That moment and that man impacted him so much, in fact, that Labelle has taken over the Cansbridge program to encourage others to seek an independent, global perspective as he did.

The co-founders have experiences with a range of cities and Labelle says they thought carefully about where to establish themselves. Vogt was from Calgary, Debora from Thornhill and Labelle from Pittsburgh. They went to school in Kingston and attended FounderFuel in Montreal. All options were on the table when choosing home base.

They evaluated about eight cities in terms of cost of living, the available talent pool, and also the quality of life – “you have to be happy where you’re living.”

Toronto was the clear winner, Labelle says. “It has the best pool of talent for tech companies, for entrepreneurs, for startups. Plus it’s a really fun and awesome city.”

“There’s no ceiling here,” he adds.

And indeed, though it is early days yet, no ceiling does appear in sight for Mosaic Manufacturing.

The Palette is available for purchase through their website.