Autodesk has announced the Spark Investment Fund, a first of its kind US$100 million global fund that will invest in entrepreneurs, start-ups and researchers who push the boundaries of 3D printing technology.

The fund comes on the heels of Autodesk’s launch of Spark, an open and free software platform for 3D printing that will connect digital information to 3D printers in a new way.

It is designed to allow companies to focus on the hardware aspects of creating 3D printers, while Spark shortens the path between digital content and hardware, optimising design before production begins and providing open APIs that will enable a broad group – from materials science companies to crowd-funded start-ups – to access and innovate the 3D printing pipeline.

According to Autodesk, these initiatives are important because the 3D printing industry is only still in its infancy despite its great potential.

“By 2018, the 3D printing industry is expected to grow to nearly US$16 billion. While the industry is undergoing significant growth, many entrepreneurs and businesses alike have been underwhelmed by what it currently has to offer,” the team noted in a statement.

Companies and individuals developing “groundbreaking hardware, software, materials, marketplaces and maker spaces” are invited to apply to participate in the Spark Investment Fund’s investment portfolio. Recipients of the fund also become a part of the Spark partner program, and will have access to marketing and other developer services available to Spark partners.

Through this combination of strategic investment and value-added partnership, Autodesk seeks to extend and empower the Spark ecosystem and spur progress toward a more mature 3D printing experience.

“The days of taking a closed, top-down approach to innovating for additive manufacturing are behind us. Numerous industries recognise the value of tapping into entrepreneurs or startups with better ideas and approaches, and 3D printing is no exception,” said Samir Hanna, Autodesk’s vice president and general manager, Consumer Products and 3D Printing.

“The Spark Investment Fund will empower innovators to improve 3D printing, and to help us unlock the tremendous promise of this technology.”

Click HERE to apply.