Petra Rees is originally from the Czech Republic and is now based in South Africa. She has started a few successful enterprises in her life; a destination marketing agency in Seychelles and one of the largest virtual business support and enterprise development centers on the African continent servicing over 50,000 small businesses over the years. Her new exciting business venture, the Why Toyz, provides fun educational content for kids ages 3-8 that one can 3D print at home or at school and has recently won the Best Edutech category in the whole of Southern Africa as part of the Southern Africa Startup Awards (SASA) as well as Seedstars Johannesburg!
Petra, could you let us know about your background and what brought you to 3D printing in the first place?
I am an entrepreneur with a recently successful business exit. Being a mom of young children, I became obsessed with wanting to raise creative geniuses and ensure they become awesome leaders in a fundamentally different future. I was looking at different technologies and ways to educate my kids to equip them with the right skills. I looked at manufacturing, VR and AR and then I was at a Singularity University Conference when I put the two and two together. I realized that 3D printing can be the answer to so many questions I had… about being able to create, being flexible and agile, dealing with exponential technologies, minimizing any supply chain and logistics issues etc.
Can you describe your very first experience with 3D Printing?
I started to research the best value for home 3D printers and tested a number of them. I was so scared at the beginning that I was asking my husband to take out the filament because I didn’t want to damage anything…. Haha
Could you explain furthermore what Why Toyz is and the services that you are providing?
Why Toyz provides fun educational content for young kids one can 3D print at home or at school directly from our app. A child can choose what she wants to print on the app, which informs the printer and voila! Our edutainment videos and development guidebooks further explore the various concepts and add value to the content we created. Our content inspires creative, problem-solving, analytical and critical thinking. And now we add another component to it – letting the small 3-7-year-old kids design what they want to create!
How did you come to build the company?
I wanted to solve the issue of raising creative geniuses and not just consumers. Prof George Land researched that only 2% of our children remain creative geniuses as they grow older… We want to change that! We want our kids to solve wicked problems one day, that us consumers seem unable to do…
To date, what would you say is your greatest achievement in Additive Manufacturing?
We have recently won the best EduTech Startup in South Africa 2019! We have also placed as a semi-finalist in the Global EdTech Startup Awards. We also recently won the Best Edutech category in the whole of Southern Africa as part of the Southern Africa Startup Awards (SASA) as well as Seedstars Johannesburg!
Do you have any (fun or not) story about the company or your career to share with us?
I was born in the Czech Republic where I started working for a corporate and almost died 😉 I then worked in Seychelles and somehow found myself in the southern tip of Africa developing local entrepreneurs. Recently, I sold that business to a venture capital firm. This gave me the time and space to think about what I really would like to do and what impact I want to make on the world. The day after you make that kind of decision is not an easy day… you start asking “What the hell am I doing?” But then when you are starting seeing the change and the long-term impact on kids’ lives I have realized that all the anxiety, stress and doubt was worth it!
Have you run into any challenges from being a female entrepreneur in 3D Printing?
I have never felt that being a woman was an issue for me. In the space I do operate now with 3D printing (being the education space) there are a lot of women and so I do not face any specific challenges by being one. However, from my experience, I have found that women are not as aggressive negotiators as men are. I do try to keep that on my mind when it comes to those hardcore business moments 😉
Anything exciting coming up you’d like us to know about?
We have launched our app that can connect to any 3D printer out there and deliver any content. Essentially, my education business Why Toyz is the first client of this platform. The applications of our platform can be for any industry and any need. It’s all about the ease of delivering the content whilst having the IP protected! Customer experience is critical for us and we are planning to industrialize the platform further.
What is the most impressive or impactful use of 3D printing you’ve seen so far?
I think that it’s extraordinary that one can print all the biological related elements like a heart or an ear but what I found very interesting about 3D printing is changing something we have already “mastered” like housing. If you can print a house with perfect quality in a day and get the process right, it can change everything! It can change the nature of the industry and have a huge impact on peoples’ lives, especially in developing countries like Africa!
What do you consider game-changing technologies in Additive Manufacturing?
In my opinion, there are two fundamental game-changers in AM: 1) business model innovation and 2) material science innovation. The fact that I can now 3D print with carbon fiber in any shape and size will revolutionize the automotive industry. My company is an example of a business model innovation specifically inked to education and content creation. But the material science innovation is the key driver to everything! As the material science innovation improves so will my business and all other 3D printing businesses.
What makes the 3D printing industry particularly interesting for you?
I started off by trying to manufacture a product but very quickly I realized that kids (and their parents) also want to create their own product and realize their dreams. 3D printing enhanced my business model exponentially as I can still deliver educational content in a very agile and customer-centric / personalized manner yet also achieve something more – thinking outside the box and building a whole new generation of creators!
What do you think of the 3D printing industry today? And how would you like to see it evolve?
3D printing is only at the starting point of taking over the world! It is starting to get traction in the industry in quite specific use cases but the mass adoption in 3D printing is still in the early adopter stage. As the research company Gartner predicts, there will be 1 3D printer in every household by 2030. And I believe it! Given this trajectory, my potential customer base is in the 10th of millions in the next 5 years.
In your opinion, how could we encourage more women to become involved with 3D Printing?
It’s intimidating for a woman to get into the technology. As I mentioned earlier, in the beginning, I was even asking my husband to change the filaments. Then I realized how empowering it was to play with the technology, being able to create my own designs and work with experts to make a masterpiece of something that has never been done before! Just by letting women unleash their inherent creativity, it will make us dominate this industry very soon!
Favorite 3D tool (could be a software, machine, material…you name it)?
Why Toyz 😉 I love how children can intuitively thorough pictures find designs they want, print the designs themselves at a touch of a button and then watch that thing being created right in front of them. This 3D printing tool is my favorite as it cares about the experience more than tools.
Favorite moment in your day job?
One of my clients contacted me recently. She was very emotional and couldn’t thank me enough as to what we have done for her son. You see, her son was diagnosed by ADHD and was struggling to focus at school, making friends, playing sports and just generally fitting in. By introducing him to 3D printing and Why Toyz including some of our 3D printing design challenges, he uncovered his inherent genius! He has recently won a competition organized by the Rapid Product Development Association of South Africa (RAPDASA) and that was only after a few months of him being introduced to 3D printing. Imagine, what unbelievable things a kid like this would be able to achieve!! It’s moments like these that give me wings and a massive sense of happiness and gratitude!
What’s on your 3D Printing wishlist for the next 5 years?
My business is all about empowering children to create their own content. At the moment, the scanning technology is still quite expensive or very inaccurate requiring a lot of post-production. The moment a child can scan something as easy as taking a photo and sending it to the printer like sending a WhatsApp message, then we would have entered a new paradigm of creativity.