Autodesk puts up $100M fund for 3D printing companies

Autodesk is gearing up to release its open-source 3D printer and accompanying software, both of which it hopes will spur growth in the 3D printer industry. But today it announced another effort to encourage the growing industry: $100 million it will award to the most promising 3D printer companies.

“We will look carefully at companies small or large that are able to both innovate and enhance the ecosystem,” Autodesk consumer group vice president Samir Hanna said in an interview. “We want to make sure we bring the best minds together … that will develop in the fastest possible way the 3D printing ecosystem, hopefully at a much faster pace than has happened to date.”

The Spark Investment Fund is aimed at both software and hardware companies. Hanna described the selection process as “deliberately open,” so anyone is encouraged to apply.

Autodesk surprised the industry back in May with the announcement of the 3D printer–its first venture into hardware. It has remained firm on the point that the printer is meant to be a tool to demonstrate Spark, the 3D printing software it will also release.

But the printer (pictured above) uses stereolithographic technology, which differs from the fused deposition modeling technology most commonly used for desktop 3D printers because it uses a laser to cure liquid plastic instead of laying melted plastic down layer by layer and then letting it harden. SLA printers have been slower to come down in price than FDM printers. Autodesk’s option could greatly accelerate that drop.