2018 SXSW Pitch Winner: ICON
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Jason Ballard, the CEO and co-founder of this Austin-based startup answered questions for this interview.
At the time of your win at SXSW Pitch this past spring, ICON was described as a construction-technology company currently working toward building the first up-to-code 3D printed home in the United States (using concrete as substrate). Would you update us on your progress?
Indeed! During SXSW, ICON unveiled its first 3D printer and successfully secured a building permit and printed a home in Austin in partnership with the non-profit, New Story. The home was printed in about 47 hours for $10,000 using the Vulcan I mobile 3D printer. The home serves as proof-of-concept for sustainable homebuilding that will allow for safer, more affordable homes for more families, faster than ever. It’s been a whirlwind since the SXSW pitch win and the unveiling of the 3D printed home! We also just closed our seed round of funding and have some incredible investors we’re working with including Oakhouse Partners, D.R. Horton, Emaar, Austin’s own Capital Factory among others. So, very exciting times!
What is the most significant development for ICON since March, when you won your category at SXSW Pitch?
It would be hard to choose, but I’d say the recent closing of our seed funding, growing our ICON team and the rapid development and progress we’ve made on the next generation of the printer.
The home built in Austin during SXSW (see photo above) looks amazing. Have any more of your structures been built since March?
No, we haven’t and here is why. We asked ourselves, do we keep printing houses and make best of where the tech is at the time or pause and iron out issues and develop a better version of the printer. But we’ve been chomping at the bit to keep printing houses as that’s the most exciting part of the business.
You have plans to use your technology to provide affordable housing in Central America. Are there any updates on that?
We are excited to continue our partnership with New Story and planning is well underway. We should have more news to share very soon. In addition to that, we are beginning serious conversations with additional partners to work on other regions, both in America and beyond.
Would you talk about the role you think your technology could play in addressing the crisis of homelessness/lack of affordable housing in the U.S.?
The homebuilding industry is in need of a complete paradigm shift. We’re in the middle of a global housing crisis and making old approaches slightly better is not solving any problems. It’s our mission at ICON to re-imagine the approach to homebuilding and construction and make affordable, dignified
housing available to everyone. For the first time, I can imagine there being an end to homelessness. Through 3D printing, advanced materials and robotics, I can see a world where there is shelter for every single person.
You say that you’re exploring the idea of using your technology in the future to build off-planet space habitats. Do you have any updates on this? Might you consider working with the proposed “Space Force” to build housing in space?
ICON has partnered with the Colorado School of Mines and is taking part in NASA’s Centennial 3D-Printed Habitat Challenge. It’s a multi-year, multi-phase challenge, and we’re right in the middle of it. It has been a dream project and an absolutely a delight to imagine humanity’s future among the stars, planets and moons. I literally have dreams of people living in buildings on Mars that were printed with ICON’s technology.
What kind of opportunities did winning the SXSW award in 2018 open up for your startup?
It provides immediate validation. People respect the SXSW brand so much. The opportunity immediately exposed us to the broader world, which allowed us to quickly understand what the world wanted from ICON’s technology as well as to connect with the right investors.
What was your most memorable moment at SXSW 2018?
After we won the pitch, word got out about there potentially being a 3D printed home in Austin. So many people showed up to our printed home and the unveiling that we almost had to shut it down. It’s a good problem to have and definitely was memorable.
Could you name the most surprising/inspiring thing you learned or saw at SXSW 2018?
The most inspiring, humbling thing was during the week of SXSW, a father whose kids (like elementary age) were on spring break came by the house and asked if they could see it while they were in town because “this is the future and it’s important for my kids to see the first one.”
Could you name a favorite panel/event of SXSW 2018?
Do you have any advice for applicants to the 2019 SXSW Pitch contest?
Learn to tell your story in a compelling way in 90 seconds. Not only will it help you win pitch events, it will help you win hearts and minds generally.
How about suggestions for 2019 SXSW Pitch finalists on how best to showcase their startup at the event?
Show up in some other way. Connect dots quickly, so you don’t get lost in the buzz. Not only did we do the pitch event, but we had a physical, tangible way to showcase our work and it proved hugely beneficial.
Do you have any other advice for attendees looking making the most of SXSW 2019?
Leave room in your schedule to be surprised as some of the most important things may not be on the official schedule.
Aside from what you are working on at ICON, what new tech industry trend / development in technology are you most excited about?
I’m personally also excited about humanity’s future in space. The emergence of a proper space economy makes me excited to be alive while it’s happening. I’m hoping to be involved in some way.
What should we expect to see from ICON over the rest of 2018 and in 2019?
Better tech, more houses and making good on the promises that ICON stands for.
Hugh Forrest serves as Chief Programming Officer at SXSW, the world’s most unique gathering of creative professionals. He also tries to write at least four paragraphs per day on Medium. These posts often cover tech-related trends; other times they focus on books, pop culture, sports and other current events.
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