Texas Tech University

PhD Student’s Hustle to Develop Innovative 3D Printing Technology

Kathryn Dankesreiter, TTU Innovation Hub Team

May 24, 2021

Cynthia Sangang and Dr. Jenny Qiu are developing a 3D printer aimed at saving oil and gas companies millions!

In Fall 2019, Dr. Jingjing (Jenny) Qiu approached Cynthia Sangang, a mechanical engineering PhD student, about a project that involved curing polymers. After their discussion, Dr. Qiu recognized the potential for a startup and contacted the Innovation Hub. Weston Waldo, a former program director at the Hub, encouraged the duo to apply to the NSF I-Corps program.

Dr. Qiu encouraged Cynthia to take the lead on the project. Her parents' background in entrepreneurship and Cynthia's own passion for innovation gave her the courage to navigate the team through NSF I-Corps. With her team relying on Cynthia to develop presentations and complete customer discovery, the young entrepreneur quickly realized the amount of work this project would take to become a successful startup. 

Undeterred by the level of work that impacted her school and social life, Cynthia dove into the program. Through NSF I-Corps, Cynthia became less afraid of rejection from potential consumers and “learned a lot about the intricacies of running a business”. The program also built her confidence and helped develop her public speaking skills. Cynthia said, “When we got accepted for the National cohort without having to go through Regionals is when I realized I could actually be good at this.”

Throughout her journey, Cynthia has found great value in the Innovation Hub from the professional meeting and lab spaces to the experience of the Hub's mentors. The PhD student utilized the Hub's expert mentors to further develop the idea into a viable business. Cynthia recalls Hub mentor, Mike Ryan, “helped simplify and break down many business concepts and terms I was not familiar with so that I could make the necessary estimates and plans for our company.” 

After their success in NSF I-Corps, QRS 3D turned their sights on the Texas Tech Accelerator program. The team entered the Spring 2020 iLaunch Competition to give them a leg up in the upcoming Accelerator competition. Cynthia recalls that during the iLaunch competition she was able to “refine our business model canvas and improve our pitch decks from the judges' feedback in both the pitch scrubs session and the final.” 

During the 2021 Discoveries to Impact Week, Cynthia's team entered the final round of the Texas Tech Accelerator competition. After a successful pitch to the judges, QRS 3D was chosen to be a part of the Texas Tech Accelerator's fifth cohort. Though the one-year incubator program just started, Cynthia is hopeful to have a solid business plan and prototype by the end of the program. 

QRS 3D is in the process of developing a 3D printer that will supply oil and gas companies with parts that would normally have to be flown into an offshore location or delivered via “hot shot” trucking onshore. Oil companies can accrue between $20- to $88- million in unplanned downtime expenses annually, by reducing downtime, QRS 3D hopes to save oil companies at least 8% of that amount. The 3D printing technology will also cut down on material waste and CO2 emissions that the gas industry is known for.

As she reflected on her entrepreneurial thus far, Cynthia said, “Overall, I'm definitely glad my PI pushed me to lead our team through the program, I was not only able to grow in my entrepreneurial journey but also took with me some life lessons that have helped me beyond.”