Lee-Bath Nelson is Co-Founder and VP Business at LEO Lane, which offers brands a way to stay in control of the quality and quantity of their parts and products in the additive manufacturing ecosystem. Prior to founding LEO Lane in 2014, Lee-Bath served as Corporate Director of Business Development at manufacturing equipment manufacturer, Orbotech. Lee-Bath’s career history also includes over a decade as a partner in venture capital funds, most recently as a general partner at Plenus Venture Lending and before that at TDA Capital Partners – a fund that was an early investor in Objet Geometries (now Stratasys).
Lee-Bath holds a PhD in Business from Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business and has a BA and MSc in Computer Science from The Technion – Israel Institute of Technology. She serves on the board of Sygnia Cyber Consulting and Elron Electronic Industries as well as Ore to Excellence, a non-profit organization that encourages underprivileged children to strive for excellence.
Lee-Bath, could you let us know about your background and what brought you to 3D printing in the first place?
First and foremost, I’m a software engineer. During my career, I’ve transitioned to the business side including being a partner in venture capital (VC) funds for over a decade. The first VC fund I was a partner at invested in 3D printing manufacturer Objet (today Stratasys). This is where my passion for the 3D printing industry was first ignited and I’ve been following this ecosystem ever since. A few years ago, I noticed a quiet shift to additive manufacturing (AM) for production. This led me, along with my business partners, Moshe Molcho, and Tessa Blokland, to establish LEO Lane in answer to the growing demand to protect intellectual property, maintain consistency and ultimately, uphold brand integrity when using AM.
What was your very first experience with 3D Printing?
I vividly remember the first time I saw an Objet 3D Printer live in action. I was astonished that slowly but surely an actual item formed and ostensibly from tiny droplets that the naked eye can’t really see! Initially, I was suspicious that someone was playing a trick on me. In my defense, VCs tend to be cynical and some people do try to convince them to believe in illusions!
Could you explain furthermore what LEO Lane is and the services that you are providing?
LEO Lane offers a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) solution that empowers industrial manufacturers (we call them brands) to securely manage AM, anywhere, any time. Our solution enables corporations to scale-up production while protecting their intellectual property, securing digital assets and enforcing consistency and control of quality and quantity of the items produced, each and every time. LEO Lane recognizes the importance of collaborating with best-of-breed ecosystem players to deliver a seamless end-to-end, secure solution to customers. Right now, we’re collaborating with many players including the likes of SAP, Materialise, and GE.
What are some of the main challenges that your solution resolves?
LEO Lane resolves the risks that come together with the use of 3D printing/ AM in production. It’s important to remember that, more so than traditional manufacturing, AM is susceptible to production inconsistencies that can easily happen unintentionally because of human error or intentionally from malice or unaligned goals. Mistakes happen. The wrong material could inadvertently get loaded onto a 3D printer, or the settings on that printer accidentally mis-set.
These are critical issues that large, Fortune 500 companies worry about, including their executive management. At the end of the day, regardless of whether such scenarios arise by accident or not, brands cannot afford to produce defective parts that will ultimately fail. Even if those parts are being produced via an intermediary, it’s ultimately the brand itself that is at risk and certainly, none of those with whom we’re working are willing to take that kind of gamble.
Our company offers an automatic and seamless mechanism to avoid this eventuality. Using our solution companies have the assurance that their IP is safeguarded, their consistency is enforced, along with the added bonus of tracking the aforementioned along with evidence of compliance.
How did you come to build the company?
Having tracked the ecosystem for many years, and with 3D printing making inroads into production, I noticed there may be a commercial issue that would hinder the adoption of AM due to executive concerns. Thus, LEO Lane was born to address these problems and eliminate this roadblock.
Do you have a (fun or not) story about the company or your career to share with us?
As I mentioned, LEO Lane was founded by three people: Moshe Molcho, Tessa Blokland, and me. In other words: a majority of women! Not only that, but Moshe Molcho is one of the staunchest promoters of women in high technology that I have ever met. This is a unique fabric of a founding team and it has really supported us well. We always hire the best person for the job and I’m happy that quite often, that is a woman. I am sometimes frustrated that for particular openings we don’t receive enough female applicants (e.g., for our VP Sales position we received two female applicants and well over 100 male applicants, some of which were wildly underqualified and yet still applied).
Have you run into any challenges from being a woman entrepreneur in 3D printing?
Not personally although I think female entrepreneurs and businesswomen face challenges on a more general scale regardless of the industry. As a business person I believe in networking and as an engineer, I believe in the power of numbers. Twelve years ago, I was appalled to discover that less than 5% of my professional contacts were women (yes, I checked!). I decided to make a conscious effort to meet professional women in high technology and business. My efforts bore fruit and my larger pool of connections now includes over 20% women. An improvement, to be sure, but still, there is work to be done! I look forward to meeting new women who share my passion for AM and innovation.
What is the most impressive or impactful use of 3D printing you’ve seen so far?
For me, additive manufacturing is most impressive as an enabler of distributed manufacturing. Unlike traditional manufacturing, this is where the raw materials and fabrication process are decentralized, with the final product being manufactured close to the end customer. This reinvigorates the manufacturing market locally, close to the demand and allows all sizes of manufacturing companies to thrive once more, including the smaller ones providing local services. This has a huge ripple effect in local communities.
What do you consider game-changing technologies in additive manufacturing?
New technologies that allow the use of existing raw materials (such as polypropylene) while maintaining the material properties post AM are game changers. In general, I think expanding the range of final materials will expand the number and type of relevant end-parts that can and should be 3D printed.
What makes the 3D printing industry particularly interesting for you?
The AM industry is fast-paced, innovative, and collaborative. three things I appreciate and enjoy. In addition, I believe AM improves our global future: reducing waste, lowering emissions due to less shipping, etc. are all good things and yet another reason it’s a wonderful time to be involved in this technology!
How would you like to see the 3D printing market evolve?
I would like to see companies leverage AM beyond the current cost savings and efficiencies. For example, in conjunction with us, AM enables the creation of new business models. It can generate new revenues and potentially new offerings that were not previously available.
In your opinion, how can we encourage more women to become involved with 3D printing?
Visibility is essential. I believe if more senior women spoke publicly in a professional capacity (unrelated to being a woman) this will empower others to recognize the shift in female positions in this industry. Whether it’s as a keynote speaker at conferences or tradeshows or as a participant in mixed panel sessions, it is important that the panel topic is professional, not gender or diversity-driven. After all, researchers have clearly shown that role models in a professional capacity have a definitive effect on the next generation’s perceptions and aspirations.
Favorite 3D tool (could be a software, machine, material…you name it)? As a business person, a 3D printed mobile phone holder for the car is a tool that I use a lot – especially in conjunction with Waze!
Favorite moment in your day job? Our team meetings are always a highlight for me. LEO Lane is blessed with an amazing team, each with unique expertise and personalities that I enjoy.
What’s on your 3D printing wish-list for the next 5 years? Growth, innovation and establishing LEO Lane as the go-to SaaS company in the ecosystem.
Another inspiring woman you’d like us to interview? Tessa Blokland