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Students at Cornish College of the Arts use a Glowforge in a class at the Seattle school. (Glowforge Photo)

Glowforge, the Seattle-based startup that makes a 3D laser cutter/engraver, is making a move into education to bring its technology to more schools and students and foster a sense of creativity that moves far beyond traditional shop classes.

The 5-year-old company has hired Melissa Smith as its new head of educational sales. Smith was previously vice president of sales and partnerships for education at Sphero, makers of interactive robotics and more.

“We live in a world where kids need to know how to make things for themselves,” said Dan Shapiro, founder and CEO of Glowforge. “When I grew up, that was welding and shop class. Today, it’s robots and lasers. I want every child to know they can create the things they imagine. I want to give every student the confidence that comes with making things for yourself.”

Glowforge CEO Dan Shapiro. (Glowforge Photo)

The move comes at a time of growth for Glowforge, which has had eight quarters of record consumer sales, according to Shapiro. The company just hit 10 million “prints” on its devices and will be profitable this year.

“I came to Glowforge because I fell in love with the product,” Smith said. “Now, I want to see it in the hands of every teacher, administrator, faculty member, student, business leader, partner and parent I’ve met over my years in education. I want to ignite their inner creativity and help them grow throughout their lives in education and throughout their careers.”

Melissa Smith. (LinkedIn Photo)

The Glowforge device is different from most other 3D printers — instead of making objects out of plastic strands, it uses a laser to quickly cut and engrave products. The WiFi-enabled device lets people use raw materials like leather, paper, plastic, fabric, or cardboard and make products with a push of a button. It can create anything from personalized leather pet collars, to coffee makers, to pediatric surgical training tools.

Glowforge has set up special resources for educators that includes free designs, lesson plans, peer support, video instruction, and more. And for those buying for a classroom, library, museum or other education institution, the company is offering to help find the right equipment and process purchase orders, via education@glowforge.com.

Glowforge has already attracted users in school settings organically. According to data from GovSpend, Glowforge is the largest vendor of laser equipment in public schools in the U.S. despite the fact that the company sells entirely to the consumer market.

Shapiro said that a survey of customers found that 8 percent of sales were going to schools, libraries, and museums, and another 8 percent were being purchased by educators for use at home.

Students work with pieces of a robot structure called Automaton that they were building at Cornish. (Glowforge Photo)

Seattle-area schools using the technology include Lincoln High School, Western Washington University, Asa Mercer International Middle School, Cornish College of the Arts, Eckstein Middle School, and the University of Washington.

Casey Curran, a studio supervisor and educator at Cornish College of the Arts, called the Glowforge a “beacon” for attracting new students into the curriculum that he teaches.

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“One of the great benefits of the Glowforge is rapid prototyping,” Curran said. “Being able to jump from your design to the Glowforge, cutting it, seeing if your components align … it has revolutionized the way students are making work.”

Glowforge raised $10 million two years ago to push its total funding past $40 million. The company started selling to the general public after working its way through production and delivery delays related to its initial crowdfunding campaign.

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