CMU startup Piecemaker partners with Toys ‘R’ Us

Piecemaker, a 3–D printing startup created by Carnegie Mellon master’s student in mechanical engineering Arden Rosenblatt and master’s student in electrical and computer engineering Alejandro Sklar, announced their partnership with retail giant Toys “R” Us at a launch party this Thursday.

Piecemaker brings 3–D printers to retailers and allows customers to design custom pieces on touchscreen kiosks — ranging from small plastic toys to pendants — and watch them be printed in the store.

Rosenblatt and Sklar first introduced the idea of bringing 3–D printing to the public at Project Olympus, Carnegie Mellon’s startup incubator, in 2013.

Kit Needham, entrepreneur in residence at Project Olympus and Piecemaker advisory board member, gave an opening speech at the launch party, discussing the origins of Piecemaker.

“I can always tell when I give presentations, that [the students] I’m getting the most questions from inevitably I do see not too long afterwards, and this was the case with Arden and Alejandro,” Needham said, referring to Rosenblatt and Sklar’s decision to take leaves of absence from Carnegie Mellon to run Piecemaker.

Needham first met with Rosenblatt and Sklar in January of 2013 and worked with the pair to create a focus and direction for Piecemaker the following summer.

“This whole process got us to be more specific, to actually find concrete uses, and to build a whole system around that,” Rosenblatt said. “Kit’s our hero; she’s been here with us since the beginning.”

“[Project Olympus] connected us to a lot of great people” Sklar said. “You get out of it what you put into it, but they have a great network and they will connect you to the right people.”

Don Morrison, chairman of deal flow at BlueTree Allied Angels, and Piecemaker board member, also gave an opening speech at the launch, discussing Piecemaker’s place in the future of retail.
“The only certainty about retail is uncertainty. Whatever it is today is going to be different tomorrow,” Morrison said. “Piecemaker is perfectly positioned to take advantage of the personalization, customization, and the omnichannel opportunities that there are.”

After Morrison, Rosenblatt took the podium to speak of the past successes of Piecemaker and their new partnership with Toys “R” Us.

The concept of the Piecemaker Factory was first launched at the 2014 Toy Fair in New York City, where they garnered attention from over 30 retailers and were named one of the top trending toys of the year by CNBC.

“It was a little bit of a moment of truth for us,” Rosenblatt said. “It was more than just a concept; it was a system that was supposed to be viable, to make money, to be simple, to be fun, to be meaningful.”

The first in-store pilots came soon afterward, in S.W. Randall Toyes and Giftes in downtown Pittsburgh and Squirrel Hill, as well as and Playthings Etc. in Butler, Pa. The pilots were a success, accounting for 5 percent of the stores’ sales in the first month.

These successes led to the startup’s partnership with the largest retailer in the toy industry, Toys “R” Us. The Piecemaker Factories will appear in the Cranberry Township, Pa. and Totowa, N.J. Toys “R” Us stores in late November.

However, Rosenblatt and Sklar have bigger plans for Piecemaker, beyond the realm of toy making. Sklar spoke of expanding into new markets and exploring different materials and technology.

“We don’t want to just be toys. We see a much bigger vision of this,” Sklar said. “We’re not pigeonholing ourselves into just 3–D printing toys. It’s much bigger than that.”

“We really strive at this company to do things that are not just exciting and new, but really peerless and unprecedented,” Rosenblatt said. “We want to keep going bigger, to do things that have never been done, on a scale that they’ve never been done.”