Tag: VersaMaker

Student Ventures

Meet the Entrepreneur: Travis Chan Developing the Swiss Army…

Meet the Entrepreneur: Travis Chan Developing the Swiss Army Knife of 3-D Printers


Travis Chan

Travis Chan loves to build things, so perhaps it’s appropriate that his latest creation may one day revolutionize how products are built. The Johns Hopkins University sophomore recently unveiled the VersaMaker, a prototyping machine that fabricates objects using a number of materials and various manufacturing techniques.

Not yet six months old, Chan’s company has made a big splash this fall, winning Open Works’ city-wide EnterpRISE Venture Competition and being named to the 2017-2018 cohort of the Ralph S. O’Connor Undergraduate Entrepreneurship Fund.

Below, Chan discusses the inspiration, aspirations and next steps for VersaMaker.

In five words, what does VersaMaker do?

Low-cost and versatile desktop manufacturing.

What was your inspiration?

I have always enjoyed making things – from model rocketry to hydroponic systems to electric longboards and 3-D printers. I got into building 3-D printers in middle school because I could not afford to purchase an off-the-shelf unit like a Makerbot. So far, I think I have built around 10 different 3-D printer designs.

However, I started to realize that even though 3-D printing has been pitched as the holy grail of desktop manufacturing, the process itself is pretty limiting. Most consumer 3-D printers can only make plastic objects, but I wanted to construct things in materials like aluminum, silicone and wood. I realized that there was a need for a versatile desktop machine that can fabricate objects out of different materials and use different manufacturing techniques – thus, the idea of the VersaMaker was born.

Provide a brief history of your company.

My company’s history is brief (like three to four months). Over the past summer, I constructed several iterations of 3-D models of the first VersaMaker prototype. The deadline for applying to the Open Works EnterpRISE competition was during the first week of September. During the six-week span of the competition, I constructed the first prototype that I showed off at the final pitch round. Fortunately, after many sleepless nights, I got the prototype to function properly literally days before the final competition.

What makes VersaMaker’s technology so important? How will it change your target market?

There are many market segments that may be interested in a low-cost, multi-functional machine like the VersaMaker. School districts, specifically teachers, want to show their students different techniques to make things because hands-on learning is one of the most effective types of education. However, school districts have low budgets and limited space in their classrooms, so they would want a low-cost, versatile, desktop machine like the VersaMaker. Furthermore, there are several grants that high schools can receive to afford machines/equipment because there are philanthropic organizations that want to increase students’ exposure to STEM-related tools.

Another market segment is small makerspaces. Small makerspaces do not have enough funding to purchase multiple machines and they may not have enough space for that many machines. Therefore, the VersaMaker would alleviate that struggle by providing more functionality in less space and at a lower cost.

Small businesses and artists who sell on websites like Etsy may also be interested in the VersaMaker because the machine can increase the company’s production speed as well as increase the variety of products that a business can sell due to its multiple functions. Also, the companies will be able to sell customized items like laser-engraved wallets, custom silicone shoe insoles, chocolate figurines, etc.

The list of market segments goes on and on (think: research laboratories, engineering firms, hobbyists, etc).

Through the Open Works EnterpRISE Venture Competition you won $10,000, membership and studio space. A week later, you were named to the 2017-2018 O’Connor Fund cohort, which provides up to $10,000, mentorship and other services from FastForward U. How will this help your progress?

VersaMaker prototype
I plan to use both awards to continue to prototype and reiterate the VersaMaker. I want it to be more user-friendly, aesthetically pleasing and easier to manufacture. I also will be applying for a utility patent for one of my future tool heads. Lastly, I am heavily considering launching a crowdfunding campaign, so I will be using some of the funds to send out beta units to reviewers and pay for Facebook ads.

The studio space at Open Works will be helpful for me because I do not have a car in Baltimore and it can be awkward bringing materials and prototypes into – and out of – Ubers/Lyfts. Now, I can leave my prototypes and materials at Open Works which is great because I was planning to work on it at that makerspace.

If you could give your past self one piece of advice for creating a startup, what would it be?

Just start one. You have nothing to lose.

What book are you currently reading?

I am currently struggling to maintain a work-life balance, so I have not had time to read as of late. However, over the summer, I really enjoyed reading “Smart People Should Build Things” by Andrew Yang, the founder of Venture for America.

What innovator do you look up to? Why?

This may sound cliché, but I adore Elon Musk. He is truly a serial entrepreneur who has founded/co-founded many successful companies like Zip2, X.com, SpaceX, Tesla, SolarCity, Hyperloop, OpenAI, Neuralink and The Boring Company.

He never backs down from adversity like when the BBC purposefully defamed the initial Tesla Roadster in its show, Top Gear. Or when city mayors outright banned or heavily regulated SolarCity’s solar panels.

He is also never afraid to speak his mind even if he knows that what he says will cause his company’s stock price to plummet.

After a long day, what is your go-to Baltimore restaurant?

R. House because I love that there is always a new option to try out and it’s within walking distance.

What’s your favorite non-work-related thing to do in Baltimore?

I love seeing animals at the Maryland Zoo, exploring Fells Point at night, and stuffing my face with KBBQ (Korean barbecue).

Learn more about student ventures and how JHTV supports them!


Student Ventures

The 2017-2018 O’Connor Fund Cohort Aiming to Commercialize Disruptive…

The 2017-2018 O’Connor Fund Cohort Aiming to Commercialize Disruptive Ideas


Ralph S. O’Connor and his wife, Becky

They’ve identified major challenges, now five ventures led by Johns Hopkins students have the opportunity to develop innovative solutions with support from FastForward U’s Ralph S. O’Connor Undergraduate Entrepreneurship Fund.

The fund — founded by Ralph O’Connor, a Johns Hopkins Krieger School of Arts and Sciences alumnus, and his wife, Becky — will provide each member a $5,000 non-dilutive grant, an opportunity to earn $5,000 more and mentorship from FastForward U.

“Where some see only problems, this group of precocious student entrepreneurs sees opportunities to drive change through innovation” says Darius Graham, director of student ventures. “We believe that our 2017-2018 cohort possesses transformative ideas and the skills and tenacity to bring them to life.

“We hope that, like in years past, the teams use the resources the O’Connor Fund provides to reach their full potential.”

Over the past four years, the O’Connor Fund has supported 17 teams of Johns Hopkins student entrepreneurs. Already, a number of these have begun disrupting industries. Take, for example, Fractal Tech, a cybersecurity startup acquired by Sunayu last summer. Or, consider Proscia, a startup that has raised over $1 million to develop its digital pathology platform.

Due in part to the successes of these peers, interest in the O’Connor Fund has spiked. Over the past two years, the O’Connor Fund has received a total of 71 applications, compared to a total of 29 for the 2014-2015 and 2015-2016 cohorts.

“Demand for programs like the O’Connor Fun has surged,” Graham says. “Through FastForward U, we hope to empower students to pursue innovation and entrepreneurship while in school or at some point in their professional careers.”

The 2017-2018 O’Connor Fund Cohort


Venture: Atana
Lead: David Shi (Senior, Krieger School of Arts and Sciences)
Description: Atana is creating secure and scalable distributed ledger infrastructure for collaborative research and development networks.

“We are hoping that the O’Connor Fund will help us secure additional strategic partnerships and accelerate our current pilot studies,” says Shi, the founder and CEO of Atana.

Venture: OtoGlobal Health
Lead: Aseem Jain (Senior, Whiting School of Engineering)
Description: OtoScreen is an affordable, smartphone-based Otoacoustic Emissions device that is designed to penetrate the developing world health care market and establish the standard of care for pediatric hearing screening in developing countries.

“We look forward to working with FastForward U to achieve business goals and hope to leverage their connections to find Johns Hopkins professors who can help us improve our technology,” says Sanjay Elangovan, OtoGlobal Health’s COO. “Although our device is ready for testing, until now, we’ve lacked the necessary funding. The O’Connor Fund will help us obtain better hardware for our technology, and will enable us to validate our idea.”

Venture: Treyetech
Lead: Eric Chiang (Senior, Whiting School of Engineering)
Description: Treyetech is a business-to-business venture that facilitates corneal transplants with a new device and disruptive workflow, improving patients’ vision beyond the current standard of care.

“The Treyetech team is thrilled to be a part of the 2017-2018 Ralph S. O’Connor Undergraduate Entrepreneurship Fund cohort, and we look forward to JHTV’s guidance and support as we navigate manufacturing and testing for our device,” says Stephanie Cai, a co-founder of Treyetech and a senior biomedical engineering major. “The O’Connor fund will provide us the resources necessary to conduct important pre-clinical studies and push forward with commercialization in the coming year.”

Venture: VersaMaker
Lead: Travis Chan (Sophomore, Whiting School of Engineering)
Description: VersaMaker is a maker device with modular tool heads so that the users can change its functionality from 3-D printing to CNC routing to laser engraving to liquid printing and more — all from a single, versatile machine.

“The O’Connor Fund’s monetary award will allow me to prototype and reiterate my product much faster. I will use the $10,000 and additional funding, towards prototyping, conferences, customer research, and possibly towards creating a crowdfunding campaign,” says Chan, the founder of VersaMaker. “However, the O’Connor Fund offers more than just money. FastForward U sets up each company with an experienced mentor from their Mentor-In-Residence program and I hope to get some advice and connections from this opportunity. In addition, FastForward U offers accounting/tax resources and legal support which will definitely come in handy for me around tax season and when I patent aspects of my product.”

Venture: Weel
Lead: Eyan Goldman (Sophomore, Whiting School of Engineering)
Description: On a mission to connect friends through commerce, Weel is creating a digital platform which introduces the social aspects of retail shopping to the rising world of ecommerce.

“The capital provided by the O’Connor Fund will enable Weel to accelerate its timetables by expanding our development capabilities, ultimately enabling us to have an earlier beta release,” says Goldman. “The resources the O’Connor Fund provides are especially exciting. As an early stage startup, we use all resources available to us. Being part of the Johns Hopkins Technology Ventures ecosystem is something that we really look forward to.”


Click here to learn more about the Ralph S. O’Connor Undergraduate Entrepreneurship Fund!


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