If you had to describe Samantha Snabes in one word, it would have to be “ambitious.”
She’s a trained EMT, volunteer firefighter, Captain of the Mississippi Air National Guard, ex-NASA employee, and founder of re:3D, a Houston and Austin-based company that’s making the world’s largest affordable 3D printer.
But there’s no slowing Snabes down. She’s currently on a mission to create a 3D printer that prints from garbage, a project that won her and her team $180,000 at the Austin Creator Awards. We spoke to Snabes to find out more about her journey.
Have you always been interested in tech growing up?
I grew up in Detroit and I always wanted to be an astronaut. I went to every camp, seminar, and clinic that I could as a child to try to find out how to be an astronaut.
From space camp, I had a list of astronauts and what state they were from. I used that to find them in the White Pages and call them at their house and say, ‘’Hey I want to be an astronaut, what do I have to do?’’
That drove my experiences through high school because when I met with the astronauts, they told me I had to go to college, so I decided to go to college. They told me I should pick a career in science, and that’s what I did.
“Me and my team quit our jobs at NASA because we consider ourselves explorers at heart.”
What’s the coolest thing you’ve seen someone make with one of your printers?
We all have our favorites. There’s a researcher at A&M who came up with a really cool way to use the print itself to treat cancer on a dog that couldn’t be treated otherwise, so there’s huge breakout potential.
What challenges have you run into?
There was a huge learning curve. It took us three months to get to what we called Gigabot 1 to the early backers.
The first couple of orders were built out of co-founder Matthew Fielder’s house, which is hard because the Gigabot is so big and shipping is super complicated. It didn’t take long for us to realize that we were going to need an office.
It took almost two years to go from Matthew’s living room to our first very small office, which we just moved out of.
For every 100 Gigabots sold, you give one to charity. Why?
We call it the Giga prize and we really want to build a community around those winners because they’re an amazing cohort of pioneers doing really radical stuff. It’s been a real honor to see those donations happening and we will be doing another one soon.
Our latest winner in January is making a portable floor for Syrian refugees.
What’s been hardest for you personally?
It’s hard being a CEO, it’s hard to pitch. I get so nervous. You can ask the Creator Awards staff—I threw up twice that day. It’s really nerve-wracking when you know you’ve had this idea that nobody else wants to bet on but maybe judges in a pitch competition will.
“It’s really nerve-wracking when you know you’ve had this idea that nobody else wants to bet on.”
What has winning the WeWork Creator Award meant for you?
This is just the beginning. Our goal is to print from plastic trash.
So many people are quick to point out why it seems unbelievable or why they don’t see it happening. It’s a really f-ing hard problem, but I think our team and the people that mentored us put people on the moon and built the Saturn 5, so you can’t say that this can’t be solved—but it does take money.
“Our team and the people that mentored us put people on the moon and built the Saturn 5, so you can’t say that this can’t be solved—but it does take money.”
What advice would you give to young girls looking to get involved in STEM?
It sounds cliché but I would say really love what you do. It’s deeper than that because if you really love something, you don’t care if you’re living out of your car, you don’t care if you use your retirement or your savings. You don’t care that your friends heckle you about not having a real job.
If you’re doing what you love, then every day is a journey and it’s exciting and it’s worth it. It has to be more than a hobby. Think about something you want to commit your life to. Your time is more valuable than anything else and life is so short.
Alice Murray originally contributed this piece to Jobbio. Banner photo by Moyomelements.me.