Written by Vibhu Gairola
As CEO and co-founder of ReDeTec, Oosterman knows this better than most. His team has spent the past four years developing a machine that recycles 3D-printed plastic and forms it into new filament for your printer. Oosterman says the number of 3D printers has more than doubled per year since 2012, making recycling a smart business proposition.
Developing this technology became a focal point for Oosterman while completing his engineering degree at the University of British Columbia. The finished product, Protocycle, created along with ReDeTec co-founders, breaks the recycling process into two distinct steps: first, unwanted material is ground into pellets, and then, the pellets are pressurised, melted, and pushed out as fresh filament.
The company is currently shipping ProtoCycle units internationally, but Oosterman was deliberate in his decision to uproot operations from the West Coast to Toronto.
“When we were looking around for support, mentorship, funding, and talent in the Vancouver area, we almost got laughed out of the room most of the time because we weren’t a software startup like the next Tinder or Facebook,” says Oosterman. “We wanted to manufacture a product instead. No one there would offer us anything; everyone here welcomed us here with open arms.”
Toronto opened up to ReDeTec in a way that Oosterman says even New York and Silicon Valley didn’t. From funding, mentorship, and partnerships that ReDeTec earned from MaRS, to relationships Oosterman’s team set up with local makers and 3D printing aficionados, Toronto’s ecosystem allowed ReDeTec to focus on making ProtoCycle safe and accessible.
“We’re a company of six,” Oosterman says, “but when we pull on our friends and mentors, we become a company of 50, and it becomes a lot easier to solve our problems.”
In an era where startups and entrepreneurs tend to fixate on apps and marketing, ReDeTec’s challenge was bringing ProtoCycle up to safety code. The company’s marketing campaigns were expressed through SEO, its blog, and social media; consumer interest in the product led to a mailing list spread across 30 or so countries to date, with unexpectedly large markets springing up in Australia and New Zealand. Product tests and delays had to be carefully explained to individual consumers eagerly awaiting their units, with Oosterman himself personally spending as many as 40 hours on emails to customers when there was a product update.
Now that ProtoCyclers are finally enroute to their new owners, Oosterman’s team is designing larger versions of the device for NGOs and government teams the world over. Many have reached out to ReDeTec personally, impressed with the possibilities the gadget presents; for instance, a group from Indonesia has indicated its intention to turn recyclable plastic bottles into 3D-printed shelters for local farmers’ markets.