Interviewing Laykanics – The Startup Transforming STEM Education

The TCT 2016 Start UP Zone returned bigger and better in 2016, providing newly established companies with a great opportunity to showcase their products and compete for the Startup Award and a prize of £10, 000.

In this year’s competition, we saw 16 companies make their big TCT debut with products and services covering all the major areas –  software, machines and filaments. It was a hard-fought competition, but there could only be one winner and it was Laykanics, with their engineering projects, designed to teach the principles of mechanics in a fun and engaging manner.

Laykanics operates as a subscription-based platform that provides its users with access to a variety of engineering projects. The projects consist of 3D printing files, technical drawings, instructions and kit of components such as motors and gears. Each of them is designed to demonstrate the principles of mechanics and introduce a new technology. Laykanics believe in the hands-on approach to engineering and they are determined to inspire and amplify the passion for science and innovation. Our Content Manager Yoana Rachovska had the pleasure of interviewing Alfonso Villanueva, Laykainics’ founder and CEO, and find out more about their philosophy, business strategy and future plans.

Yoana:  First of all, I want to congratulate you and your team on a very well-deserved TCT Startup Award! Tell me how did Laykanics come to be? How did it start?

Alfonso: Thank you! All of the companies in the Start Up Zone had great ideas and exciting new products, so we are really thrilled to be awarded first place. Well, the idea originated in a conversation between me and a close friend of mine back in the halls of  MIT.  However, nothing happened back then, because we went separate ways after our graduation in 2006. I joined the Rolls-Royce aerospace division and while I saw I saw a lot of innovation happening within the industry, there was also a declining interest in the STEM fields among younger generations. It was then that I recognised the vast opportunities 3D printing opens and that it might be the right tool to inspire and awaken the next generation of makers.

Yoana: What do you think are the biggest barriers that keep young students from pursuing a higher education and careers in STEM fields?

Alfonso:  This is a complex issue. The causes vary from country to country. I spent almost ten years in the US and one of the reasons there is the outsourcing of big manufacturing businesses. As a result, people feel like we don’t need to do things ourselves anymore, we just need to commercialise them.

In the UK it is pretty much the same, very few things are still made here. The public perception of engineering is reduced to fixing boilers and changing window glasses. I feel like mechanical engineering is downgraded and thought of as an inferior occupation. There is the financial argument, too. I know a lot of engineers graduating from really prestigious universities like Stanford and Cambridge and go straight into the financial sector because they will make a lot more money there.

Yoana: Educators play a huge role in the formation of interest that later influence students’ academic and career choices. What is the best way to get teachers excited about 3D printing? 

Alfonso: We need to provide them with access to good and easy- to-use design packages. We also need super user-friendly plug-and-play printers, because teachers don’t have the time to get through a steep learning curve. Some of them don’t see the value of 3D printing as an educational tool yet. Things have definitely progressed over the past few years, though.

Yoana: There several popular projects aiming to accelerate the adoption of 3D printing in the education sector such as Project Ignite and Create Education. What sets Laykanics apart from them? 

Alfonso: The answer lies right in the name; Laykanics – layers and mechanics. Our toys have real mechanical functionality. Other platforms offer great tools and resources for design, but the models you make have less practical use on their own. Laykanics toys are small working machines – they can move, they can fly and do lots of other things. It is a very hands-on experience which you can learn the laws of science from. We are all about making layers and mastering mechanics.

Yoana: From what we saw at the TCT, we can tell that Laykanics is definitely off to a good start. What is next for the company? 

Alfonso:  First, we plan to increase and diversify our kits, we want to include remote control toys and robotic kits. The other big thing is going for an investment round. Now that Laykanics’ concept is proved and developed, we are ready to scale. We are looking to strengthen our relations with schools and universities and accelerate the adoption of Laykanics as their 3D printing platform.

We also want to bring STEM initiatives to the engineering industry and hopefully, we will encourage more collaboration between educational platforms and big engineering companies. Last but certainly not least, we see a lot of potential in Arduino and Raspberry Pi projects, so we’d really like to promote and speed up their adoption in the future.