Ask the entrepreneur: 3Qs with 3-​​Spark

3Spark LLC

Pitching your busi­ness to U.S. Sen. Eliz­a­beth Warren is no easy feat, but it helps when you’ve prac­ticed your ele­vator pitch a number of times before­hand, says North­eastern alumnus and researcher Richard Ranky, co-​​founder and CEO of 3-​​Spark, LLC. Together with Dis­tin­guished Pro­fessor of Engi­neering Con­stan­tinos Mavroidis, aca­d­emic spe­cialist Mark Sivak, and doc­toral stu­dent Lexi Carver, Ranky spun off 3-​​Spark from Northeastern’s Bio­med­ical Mecha­tronics Lab­o­ra­tory. The com­pany spe­cial­izes in 3-​​D printing tech­nolo­gies for the edu­ca­tion and con­sumer mar­kets and was accepted into the 2013 Mass­Chal­lenge pro­gram. Ranky offered to share his expe­ri­ence starting 3-​​Spark and how the uni­ver­sity helped turn his doc­toral dis­ser­ta­tion into a business.

3-Spark co-founder and Northeastern alumnus Richard Ranky divulges what it takes to turn a dissertation into a full-dimensional new business that specializes in 3-D printing. Photo by Brooks Canaday.

What made you start your business, and how did you get to where you are now?

I’ve always loved building things. The technology behind 3-D printing is fascinating and elegant. While I don’t see it replacing traditional manufacturing methods, it is a powerful tool that future engineers can take advantage of. By creating 3-Spark with our embedded electronics technology, I felt that I could help future generations of engineers and designers create better products and designs.

What were the biggest lessons you learned while trying to build your business?

I learned how important it is to have both a chief executive officer and a chief technology officer, and how these two should work together. In a small team, it’s challenging for one person to take on both roles, and sometimes the priorities are even opposed between the two. Many jobs of the CTO are very narrowly focused, while the CEO needs to be acutely aware of the bigger picture and all business impacts on the company, and strategically make all these factors and resources work together seamlessly.

How has Northeastern helped you along the way?

I can’t imagine having come this far without all the people and resources at Northeastern. The Center for Research Innovation provided us with seed-funding through the Catalyst grant program, and CRI staff has worked closely with us to keep our intellectual property portfolio strong. Additionally, the College of Engineering and Biomedical Mechatronics Lab have donated in kind support to design and build in their labs, while Health Science Entrepreneurs and IDEA have supplied us with mentorship and support to help us found the company and participate in MassChallenge. We’ve also secured our legal and accounting services though an IDEA support grant.

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