WI Gupta

University of Illinois senior Trisha Gupta holds some 3D-printer filament produced by the startup she co-founded, Filify 3D, which makes it out of recycled 3D-printer waste, on Thursday, Aug. 8, 2019, at the Mechanical Engineering Lab on Mathews Avenue in Urbana.

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Each week, staff writer Paul Wood interviews a high-tech difference-maker. This week, meet TRISHA GUPTA, a University of Illinois senior in computer engineering who is the co-founder and CEO of Filify 3D, a startup that recycles plastic waste from 3D printing into filament for the printers.

What are the goals of Filify 3D?

Filify 3D is a social venture dedicated to making innovation sustainable. We transform useless waste into endless potential by recycling waste from printing facilities on campus into 3D-printer filament that can be used by these facilities. Currently, we collect failed 3D prints, remnants and any other plastic waste that is a result of 3D printing from facilities on campus and convert it into 3D-printer filament on a small scale. We are looking to increase our capacity and expand our initiative in order to reduce even more waste. Since most of this waste in unmarked, this plastic ends up in landfills instead of being recycled.

Do you have an estimate of how much plastic you save?

In just over seven months during most of the fall and spring semester, we were able to divert around 700 pounds of waste from three printing facilities on campus. There is definitely more waste we can be collecting from other printing facilities, research laboratories, companies in the Research Park and hobbyists in the community.

What are the challenges in recycling?

Plastic bottles are primarily made of PET (polyethylene terephthalate), and we want to work on recycling it into PET filament and possibly a similar polymer filament. The biggest hurdle in trying to recycle these plastic bottles is standardizing or automating the collection, cleaning and shredding of this waste, because plastic containers are made up of many different types and grades of plastic that in our experience cannot be mixed to make good filament.

Have you received funding from the Student Sustainability Committee fee resource?

The Student Sustainability Committee has been a great resource for Filify 3D over the years. Through grants we applied for, SSC provided us with $7,000 and resources that allowed us to buy machinery when we were starting out. The rest of the machinery and space was provided to us by the Innovation Studio in the Mechanical Engineering Labaratory.

How does your work inspire younger students?

We believe that Filify 3D is at a unique intersection of sustainability, engineering and innovation. We want to use our platform to work with local middle and high schools to promote these important values of sustainability and innovation but also promote STEM among these students.

Who else is on your team?

My co-founders are Wesley Kramer and Brian Tyiran. Wes graduated as a mechanical engineer and works as an application engineer. Brian Tyiran is a senior in electrical engineering. The rest of the team comprises nine spectacular individuals, most of whom are from the Grainger College of Engineering, Gies College of Business and College of Fine and Applied Arts.

How did you get the idea to start the company?

My co-founders and I were part of Enactus, a Social Entrepreneurship Organization on campus. As fascinating as we found 3D printing, we also realized it was a very wasteful process.

Have you ever made any mistakes you’ve been able to learn from?

The biggest mistake I have made is not being confident enough in myself to try new things. It is easy to feel insufficient when you are in a room full of brilliant minds and you feel like you don’t fit the mold for something. Nobody is going to believe in you if you don’t believe in yourself. I quickly learned that the only way to be confident is to work hard to continuously learn skills and develop myself holistically. My biggest growths have been from successes and failures in things I have done furthest away from my comfort zone.

TECH TIDBITS ... from TRISHA GUPTA

Do you have an app you really like? I love using the app ToDoist to keep a track of everything I have to do in a day for short term goals and a week for long-term goals.

On Facebook I follow ... photography and travelling, so I follow a lot of pages that document these adventures.

Book or Kindle? What are you reading right now? Books for sure, nothing beats the feeling smell of a book! I am reading “Men Without Women” by Haruki Murakami and re-reading “And the Mountains Echoed” by Khaled Hosseini.

Did you have an entrepreneur hero? While growing up in India, my mother always told me about strong women who always challenged the status quo. Kiran Mazumdar established Biocon, a biotechnology company, in the 1970s when women entrepreneurs let alone those who have tech ventures were unheard of in India.

Reporter

Paul Wood is a reporter at The News-Gazette. His email is pwood@news-gazette.com, and you can follow him on Twitter (@pvawood).