Back in our home countries, reinventing ourselves might not be easy. But if you’re in Beijing, considered by many as the land of exciting opportunities, transformation can be sudden as long as you’re willing to take a chance. People who have successfully reinvented themselves have reached new heights in their careers and connections, and their stories motivate others who are exploring the many options this city offers.
We dedicate this special section to the makers of Beijing – the entrepreneurs, crafters, and the movers and shakers who provide new ways of experiencing this great city. We know there are many out there who have exciting endeavors in mind but are just waiting for the right moment. So we hope that you find inspiration in each maker whom we’ve invited to participate in this feature.
The 3D Food Company
Who would have thought that the mechanical apparatus held by architect and designer Leandro Rolon in the picture above could create delicious food? In fact, it uses the same 3D printing technology that’s been present in architecture and art, medicine, and manufacturing industries for decades! This mind-boggling method of food creation has recently made waves in Beijing’s food scene, courtesy of The 3D Food Company, co-founded by Rolon. He describes the 3D food creation process as “watching magic”, and that the customizable treats like candies and mooncakes are “a delight to see and taste.”
beijingkids: Tell us what inspired you to put up your business/brand. Is it something related to your profession or hobby?
Rolon: My journey as an architect has given me the opportunity to experiment with a wide array of advanced technologies such as computer-aided modeling and 3D printing. Approximately 10 years ago, I had my first experience with 3D printing. It was slow, expensive, and very very limited. But it was still like watching magic. The notion that I could design something on a computer and watch it be “grown” in front of my very eyes was exciting. As a designer, this was very empowering.
I realized then that if I wanted to create a business out of these ideas, I could very simply employ the help of a few machines without having to go through heavy investments in tooling and inventory. The idea to begin printing food in all honesty spurred from pure curiosity. That is, if I could print plastic in any shape or form, how interesting could it be if I could, for instance, do this out of chocolate? Once my team and I began exploring this concept further, it became apparent that this technology has the potential to fix a lot of the larger issues in the food industry such as food waste and distribution of nutrients, in addition to helping chefs create very precise, designer dishes. This led to my partner and I founding The 3D Food Company.
How did you face the first few challenges that came along your way?
Starting a business requires a very specific mindset. Challenges are present at each step so it’s just a matter of how to look at challenges. For us, some of our first challenges became our biggest opportunities. One example was launching an official company here in China. It’s a scary and intimidating process to go through as a foreigner but in our case, we found that organizations were willing to assist if we were willing to showcase our ideas to a larger audience. We entered into a startup competition, along with some very established brands. We did not think we would win but we worked really hard to put together a great pitch deck in a matter of days. This limitation forced us to understand aspects of our business that we would not have had the chance to see if it the path as easy. In the end, we presented our ideas and business proposal and won! A few months later we were now ready to officially launch our business in China.
Share with us a memorable story that helped you build your brand.
One interesting story was for a large project we did two years ago. We were invited to help beat a Guinness World Record using 3D printing technology. At first, we were excited about the prospect of achieving such a prestigious award but very quickly realized that we would have to 3D print a very large amount of plastic to do so. 1.87 tons of plastic to be exact! As a company and personal ethos, I believe design has the power to really change and improve the way we live on this planet. The notion of printing that much plastic didn’t sit right regardless of the prestige associated with a Guinness record. So, to fix the problem we asked our client if they would be willing to take a more sustainable approach instead of printing a ton of plastic. We teamed up with a great company making corn-based materials. After many rounds of experimentation, it was clear that we could use this material instead and so, in the end, we were able to break a Guinness World Record for the world’s largest 3D printed structure with a material almost entirely composed of corn! The best part was when the pavilion was finished, visitors could take a piece of the structure with them to be repurposed in their homes as a planter or lighting fixture!
What can you tell people who are planning to set up small businesses here?
Beijing and China at large are full of amazing opportunities. When starting a business here it’s important to talk with our actual customers to better understand what they want and desire. You will likely have to compromise a bit but in the end, you are building a product or service that really serves your core clients.
What’s that one thing that has kept you in Beijing?
Beijing is such an interesting city which functions at a speed, unlike most cities I’ve previously been too. What I like most about living here is the pace at which business and technology move, contrasted with thousands of years of history in the backdrop, including culture, architecture, and cuisine. In a strange way, they sort of complement one another which create a very unique environment to build a business.
Want to try 3D food printing? Contact Rolon and his team at WeChat – search for “3D Food Company” (their official subscription account) or visit 3dfoodcompany.com.
This is the digital version of the Making the New Beijing feature article in the beijingkids November 2018 Beijing Makers issue
Photo: Lens Studio