Dawn Putney is the founding president and lead strategist at Toolbox Creative, a brand design firm for innovative technology companies. Before moving to Colorado in 1994, Dawn worked with some of the largest ad agencies in Minneapolis. With 30+ years as a brand designer, Dawn thrives on helping technologists, innovators and engineers tell the story of how their big ideas can change the world. Dawn is also the co-founder of Art Lab Fort Collins, an experimental, nonprofit creating community spaces for the arts. Dawn is proud to serve as a board member of Pretty Brainy, a nonprofit that engages girls in STEAM learning; Colorado C3E, supporting women in CleanTech, and the Museum of Art | Fort Collins. Dawn believes that elevating the conversation will change the face of women in technology and business leadership. She believes that supporting nonprofits focused on empowering women in technology helps build a future where women can more easily climb to the top of the business ladder. The future looks brighter and kinder when built by women.


Dawn, could you describe your very first experience with 3D Printing?

Toolbox Creative got a call from a local 3D printing manufacturer, Aleph Objects. They were looking to create a brand identity for their new open source 3D printer – the LulzBot product line. We created the iconic brand for LulzBot, from logo to product datasheets and advertising. That was my first exposure to the industry. Once I learned the power of 3D printing and the potential for changing the face of manufacturing, I was hooked.

Could you explain furthermore what Toolbox Creative is and the services that you are providing?

Toolbox Creative is a B2B technology brand design firm. We speak Engineer, translating complex technologies and bridging the gap between the science of science and the art of selling it. We help our tech clients tell their stories, from websites to sales materials and everything in between. We are on a mission to help technologists, innovators and engineers prove how their big ideas and innovative technologies can change the world.

How did you come to build the company?

I’ve always been an entrepreneur, even when I didn’t know what that meant. When I was a single mom in Minneapolis, I bucked the status quo and went solo, freelancing for some of the biggest (and smallest) design and marketing agencies in town. After moving to Colorado in 1994, I went to work for a successful strategic direct marketing company. The owners retired and closed the business in 2001, so I saw another opportunity to strike out on my own. I freelanced for a year, then started Toolbox Creative in earnest in 2002, partnering with my significant other and jumping in with both feet. I’m the risk-taker, he’s the pragmatic partner, which makes for a perfect combo when it comes to running a creative agency.

To date, what would you say is your greatest achievement in Additive Manufacturing?

Helping our clients build memorable brands is my pride and joy. We’re very proud of the branding work with did for LulzBot — their signature electric green identity helped them stand out as innovators and creators. They’ve expanded the wonderfully recognizable brand with other agencies, and we’re proud to have been a part of that.

With all that, my proudest moment was the day we were able to gift a local education nonprofit, Pretty Brainy, with a LulzBot 3D printer of their very own. Pretty Brainy empowers girls ages 10 to 18 through STEAM learning and design thinking. With their newly acquired 3D printer, they taught a group of girls how to design and prototype their own inventions. That’s when I really fell in love. In fact, I sit on the board of Pretty Brainy and continue to work with the girls, teaching them design thinking.

Pretty Brainy recently hosted a 24-hour designathon attended by nearly 100 local high school, college, and professional women. The MISSion Innovation event was an all-woman innovation marathon for climate action. The teams of young women used 3D printing to create prototypes while coding, creating and collaborating to help the city of Fort Collins, Colorado, support its goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2050. Seeing those young women in action gives me warm fuzzies.

Have you run into any challenges from being a woman entrepreneur in 3D Printing?

If you don’t see anyone who looks like you in the profession you want to pursue, it’s hard to see yourself succeeding. Much of what I’m seeing in the world of tech is organizations filled with men. That’s why I decided to spend as much of my time as possible supporting women in technology. I have learned firsthand that small changes make a big difference. Mentorship allows girls and young women to see successful female role models in STEM fields, as well as cultivate a sense of belonging for women in technology beyond the administrative and marketing roles they often fill.

Do you have any (fun or not) story about the company or your career to share with us?

Piggy-backing on the question above, when I worked as a very young woman in ad agencies in Minneapolis, I had a mentor who changed my life. Ned was a creative director at the agency where I spent most of my time as a freelance production artist. As a former farm girl from rural Minnesota, I was intimated by all the talent and, honestly, egos in agency land. One day, Ned pulled me into his office for a pep talk. He sat me down, looked me straight in the eye and said, “Dawn, everyone here knows how great you are at your job — except you.” That one piece of advice helped give me the confidence I needed to build the career I have today. Without Ned, there probably wouldn’t be a Toolbox Creative.

What is the most impressive or impactful use of 3D printing you’ve seen so far?

I’m a super fan of Free-D and the work Katherine Prescott, Siavash Mahdavi, and their team are doing to support underprivileged women in India by teaching them 3D printing. I love that they’re using technology for good.

What makes the 3D printing industry particularly interesting for you?

Girls and women are natural problem-solvers, leaders, and innovators. 3D printing is a relatively new technology and industry where female innovators can have an impact and help make our world a better place. The path to advancing girls and women in technology is paved early and by many hands — and an innovative industry like 3DP can make a real difference.

What do you think of the 3D printing industry today? And how would you like to see it evolve?

The industry is rich with summits, events, and conferences. The time is ripe to dismantle the manel (all-male panels). We need to see more women speaking at conferences and on panels. Leaders throughout tech industries are taking the panel pledge, promising not to participate in or attend panels that do not include women, and the movement has gained momentum worldwide. Among other groups, 500 Women Scientists and Women in 3D Printing are working to make the voices of their industries more inclusive. I’d like to see even more of that in 3D printing.

In your opinion, how could we encourage more women to become involved with 3D Printing?

STEM education and mentorship is critical. Engaging STEM curriculum, project-based learning, and real-world internships give girls hands-on experience and plant the seed of a lifelong love of technology. Groups like Pretty Brainy and Women in 3D Printing are lighting the paths as girls explore their options.

Favorite 3D tool (could be a software, machine, material…you name it)? Design thinking!

Favorite moment in your day job? Being our company’s spiritual cheerleader.

Another inspiring woman you’d like us to interview?  Katherine Prescott at Free-D

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