Three young Singaporeans who went online to raise US$100,000 (S$125,000) so they could start making the world's cheapest 3-D printer are suddenly thinking bigger.
"If things keep up, we could break the $2 million or maybe even the $3 million mark," said Mr Brendan Goh, 25, a materials science and engineering graduate of Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and co-founder of the start-up Pirate3D.
The reason for his optimism? Within just 10 minutes of launching their 30-day fund-raising bid on crowdfunding site Kickstarter.com on May 30, they hit their US$100,000 target. And the money's been rolling in, at the rate of an average US$81,000 a day ever since. As of 11pm yesterday, the total had hit US$760,000 (S$940,000).
The Kickstarter site lists various projects that need funding and anyone can pledge money to ideas they like, giving anything from US$1.
Those backing Pirate3D have given an average of US$388 each. As of now, everyone who pledges US$397 or more has the option of receiving one of the first Buccaneer printers to be rolled out from December.
So far, the money has come from about 2,000 people mostly in North America, with an estimated tenth of them from Singapore.
With 20 days to go before the drive ends on June 29, a site that tracks Kickstarter projects says Pirate3D is trending towards a total haul of $3.1 million.
"It's been exciting," said Mr Goh, who looks after finance and operations in the 10-month-old company.
The other three founders are his NTU classmate Tsang You Jun, 26, National University of Singapore business administration graduate Roger Chang, 25, and NUS adjunct professor Neo Kok Beng, 48.
Mr Goh and Mr Tsang have known each other since their school days at St Andrew's Junior School. They met Mr Chang last June through mutual friends, and the three found common ground in their love for machinery. Mr Neo came on board next. The veteran technopreneur taught Mr Chang at NUS and now advises on Pirate3D's business strategies.
They came up with the idea of making a cheap, reliable 3-D printer for home use and set up Pirate3D last August after tinkering with clumsier existing models.
Mr Goh said they named their product Buccaneer, in line with the pirates theme they borrowed from Apple founder Steve Jobs' quotes associating pirate life with a sense of adventure. The printer's clean look and feel are also inspired by Apple products.
Pirate3D received its first big boost in January when Red Dot Ventures, a venture capital firm focused on home-grown high-tech start-ups, and the National Research Foundation put in $589,000.
Red Dot's managing director Leslie Loh said the Buccaneer's combination of a sleek and stylish look with promised ease of use, complemented by an intuitive software, were its winning features.
"The first-mover advantage of delivering an affordable 3-D printer at US$347 for the masses was key to Pirate3D's success on Kickstarter," he added. In 3-D printing, an object is made layer by layer from a digital model, and the process is set to change traditional processes of manufacturing.
In the home, it can be used to make crockery, jewellery and toys or even help replace or repair broken items.
Most 3-D printer makers have focused so far on industrial use, and the few brands with models for amateurs are costly, with prices in the thousands.
Mr Neo said the market for consumer 3-D printers remains unexplored and untapped, and that is the gap Pirate3D hopes to fill with the Buccaneer, which will be made by a local manufacturer, keeping costs down.
Users of the Buccaneer will be able to create their own plastic objects through a 3-D imaging software program. There is a growing library of templates provided by Pirate3D that can be used to print simple objects, including ready-to-use utensils.
"The Buccaneer is not just a 3-D printer, but (is) about democratising innovation and fostering creativity," said Mr Neo.
Mr Chang said that with more funding, Pirate3D will look to produce a Version 2, and products such as a 3-D scanner and colour printer.
Among those supporting the Buccaneer project is research engineer Alvin Tan, 26, who pledged US$500. "I wanted a 3-D printer for personal use because then I can print out anything I want," he said.
"There're lots of 3-D printers out there but the Buccaneer looked nifty and its price just looked right."
He said he also wanted to support local entrepreneurship, and hoped Pirate3D will "inspire more Singaporeans to come forward with creative ideas".