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Petaluma kid, 12, launching 3-D printing business

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Most kids spend their summers hanging out with friends, swimming, going to camp. What most kids don’t do is spend their summers launching crowdfunded 3-D printing businesses.

Rowan Pritchard isn’t most kids.

Since wrapping up fifth grade at Petaluma’s Mary Collins School at Cherry Valley, the Petaluma 12-year-old has been doing all of the above — with a little help from his parents, Jennifer and Scott Pritchard, and Deb Dalton, executive director at Mentor Me.

As of Friday, he was about $1,000 shy of reaching his $3,300 GoFundMe goal, money that will go toward purchasing the various components needed to set up a 3-D printing lab in his home like a 3-D printer, monitor, scanner and a recycler to reuse scrap material.

Rowan was introduced to 3-D printing three years ago when his uncle took him to a Maker Faire in San Rafael.

“There was an aisle inside one of the giant buildings that had rows and rows of different types of 3-D printers, and at first I didn’t know what they were, but I saw lights and I saw machine parts moving, so I went over there,” he said.

From the participants he got a crash course in the basics of 3-D printing. The kid was hooked.

“I went home and did a little bit of research and started getting more and more into it and learning more about it and how it can improve people’s lives and what it does for people,” he said.

“One day, he said he wanted a 3-D printer, and I’m like, ‘OK, that’s neat. I’m sure you do,’ ” Rowan’s dad, Scott, said, laughing. “You don’t know if it’s just a fleeting thought, or if it’s one that’s going to stick.”

Rowan would come home from school and research 3-D printing online constantly.

“My wife, Jen, and I kept observing this, and realized it was something he was really into,” Scott Pritchard said.

Pretty soon, the idea of not only purchasing a 3-D printer but turning it into a business started to become a more realistic, although expensive, prospect.

“We talked to him about the concept of what a GoFundMe was, and he said, ‘I’ll do that!’ ” Pritchard, 42, said. “We had him write his own message, we talked about the donors being investors. It was a great opportunity to teach him how to run a business.”

The parents explained it would be like a start-up.

“You’re going to have to have investors and thank them when they contribute and follow up with them on your goal,” Pritchard said. “And when you get there, you’re going to have to continue to speak to them about the progress.”

Shortly thereafter, Pritchard marched Rowan into Mentor Me for a sit-down with Dalton.

That’s when part two of the plan was hatched — the idea for Rowan to teach a class at Mentor Me for other kids interested in learning about 3-D printing.

“Rowan wanted to know what I thought about his idea, and I gave him a lot of things to look up — the whole concept of corporations, and how part of their business is donating to causes and the rest of it is for profit,” Dalton said. “He was cute. He basically came and interviewed me.”

It’s taken Rowan just two months, and three progress updates, to raise more than $2,000 on his GoFundMe page.

“The response has been super cool,” Scott Pritchard said. “It’s a weird thing as a parent to watch your kid go do a GoFundMe, but it’s been neat to see that people believe in him. You’ve got to put your message out there and make yourself a little bit vulnerable, but what can come back can be pretty amazing.”

As soon as he raises the money, Rowan plans on setting up a website where people can make custom orders. Rowan said he’ll also likely have a special “item of the week” and a rotating roster of available products, like repair parts for quadcopters, smartphone cases, pens, tools, toys and more.

(His parents said they’ll make sure he gets the requisite business license.)

Rowan plans to give 10 percent of his profits back to charity, and he’s not thinking small.

“It’s a pretty quick turnaround, actually,” he said. “Eight hours to print, and then one or two days to ship. Faster than Amazon!”

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