Autodesk , Inc. plans to invest up to $100 million in 3D printing companies over the next several years to encourage the development of innovative 3D printing technologies.

The first of its kind for the 3D printing industry, Autodesk’s Spark Investment Fund will invest in entrepreneurs, startups and researchers who push the boundaries of 3D printing technology and accelerate the new industrial revolution.

The latest announcement follows Autodesk’s introduction of Spark, an open and free software platform for 3D printing that will connect digital information to 3D printers in a new way. Autodesk has invited the entire 3D printing community to collaborate, build and improve the platform, as well as its associated Ember 3D printers and materials.

Companies and individuals developing groundbreaking hardware, software, materials, marketplaces and maker spaces are encouraged to apply to participate in the Spark Investment Fund’s investment portfolio. In addition to the financial investment, Spark Investment Fund recipients will become part of the Spark partner program and have access to marketing and other developer services available to Spark partners.

Samir Hanna, vice president and general manager, Consumer Products and 3D Printing at Autodesk explains that the initiative is a big step away from the days of taking a closed, top-down approach to innovating for additive manufacturing. Observing that numerous industries recognise the value of tapping into entrepreneurs or startups with better ideas and approaches, he added that the Spark Investment Fund will empower innovators to improve 3D printing, and help them unlock the tremendous promise of this technology.