Interview with Ricky Solorzano, CEO Allevi (Video/Podcast)

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Ricky Solorzano, Co-Founder and CEO of Allevi – Ricky guides the vision, strategy, and day to day of the company. He has been obsessed with tissue engineering for 10 years, studied Bioengineering at the University of Pennsylvania, and created the world’s first desktop 3D bioprinter out of his dorm room. He has been influential in creating the biofabrication industry and has been a Forbes 30 under 30, Inc 30 under 30, and Business Insider 100: The Creators #65. Ricky will be speaking at the 3D Printing in Space panel at the upcoming 3DHEALS2020.

Jenny: What was it like when you first encountered the concept of 3D printing? 

Ricky: The first time I saw a 3D printer, it was mesmerizing. There was something incredible about seeing a design on a computer and then having it printed out by an object. I think there is something inherent about the ability to create as humans. I remember when we built the first 3D printer for plastic, I printed out so many different objects. It was awesome to experience the design freedom.

Jenny: What inspired you to start your journey in bioprinting?

Ricky: I feel I was always drawn towards the idea of tissue and biological engineering. I used to read the articles and see videos on YouTube about the potential tissue engineering can have on patients. The idea of regeneration is an amazing one. It’s why I went to study at the University of Pennsylvania. While there, I got to working in Dr. Chris Chen’s lab, where we spent a lot of time thinking about how we could design blood vessels and pattern cells with microfab technologies. A post-doc there at the time, Dr. Jordan Miller, built his printer, and he was experimenting with the idea of printing sugar. It was great to see his work. He introduced me to the RepRap movement. There was another significant movement happening at the time, which was the desktop 3D printing industry. Companies created at the time were MakerBot, FormLabs, and Markforged, to name a few. No one was doing it in 3D bioprinting, and that’s I think where the idea first originated; to apply desktop 3D printing to bioprinting.

Jenny: What was it like to start the company from a dorm room?

Ricky: It was very exciting at the time. I think we didn’t have much sense of what we were doing, but I think we believed we could get somewhere since no one else knew much about the space, and we were okay with making mistakes to try new things out. It felt very open to experimentation with a sense of optimism that we could make things happen. Overtime we found things that worked and things that didn’t and kept expanding on the things that worked. And that’s how we came to make our first 3D bioprinter. We knew we wanted to keep the momentum going, so we learned to get investors and finally moved into an office that ultimately converted the idea from a project to a business. I think it’s really important to have a sense of obsession to do it as well. Because you wake up, walk a few feet, and you work or play on the idea and then go to sleep and repeat the process the next day!

Jenny: Software, materials, or 3D printers. It has been a debate in the industry forever as to which is the most critical player. What do you think is the most important player in healthcare 3D printing? 

Ricky: I think there’s always that debate even within the company. I believe they are all essential to make the experience of designing 3D biology and tissues possible. They are all at different maturities and stages. Still, they all need to continue to evolve at equal paces to get to more impact in the field, both from a drug discovery perspective as well as future innovation in autologous tissue transplants.

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A 3D bioprinted microfluidic chip sample. Photo via Allevi

Jenny: What are some of the most notable progress made in the field of 3D bioprinting with Allevi and in general? Anything we should hope for 2020? 

Ricky: I get very excited about the progress we have made with both our software, and how easy of an experience we have designed, as well as our partnerships. I believe Allevi has a very good foundation of partnerships that we continue to expand as the field matures, such as those with Advanced BioMatrix, Dimension Inks, FluidForm, and Xylyx Bio. We are now evolving to work with larger life science-based firms as well.

Jenny: Why did Allevi change the name from BioBots to Allevi?

Ricky: We changed the name to expand on the idea that it’s not simply about the printers, but it is also about the entire experience to alleviate suffering with bioprinters, bioinks, and software.

Jenny: What are some of the most notable progress made in the field of 3D bioprinting with Allevi and in general? 

Ricky: Honestly, I feel the Allevi 2 to date has proven to be an amazing contribution to the field so far. The amount of publications the platform has enabled in the past 3 years has been incredible. And the publications keep coming. Publications are one of the biggest things we track and how we see we are directly impacting the field. I think the thing to look out for in 2020 we are watching is the publications that will come from the Allevi 3!

Jenny: Anything we should hope for for 2020?

Ricky: I think things to watch in 2020 is how bioprinting continues to penetrate its way onto the desks of more biologists. We are making investments in that direction and believe it’s one of the next steps as the technology continues to mature. Standards in software and bioinks need to continue to develop, but we’ve come a long way, and companies like Xylyx Bio are helping biologists gain greater reasons to switch sooner…to be able to access unique physiological relevance.

Jenny: How does COVID19 change that plan? How are you adapting to the new norm? 

Ricky: I think Covid-19 is an interesting dynamic on that plan. I believe that it’s slowing the general field of bioprinting, but it’s stressing us and the rest of the industry to think more about drug discovery. Since the only scientists showing up to the labs are those testing drugs, we are being forced to think more critically about how bioprinting plays a role in creating models. In terms of the company, in general we have needed to understand how to adapt to working remotely. It has pros and cons, but I think we see it’s here to stay for a while. So more zooming, more schedules, and playing Kahoot keeps us all focused and working together. 

Jenny: What does the word “3DHEALS” mean to you?  =)

Ricky: A tribe that’s passionate on how 3D printing will improve human health and change the world for years to come. 

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