The Story Behind GrabCAD’s Acquisition: MakerBot, Motives, & More

The price was reportedly $100 million in cash, but the reasons are always personal.

I’m talking about startup acquisitions—in this case, 3D printing giant Stratasys swooping in and buying Cambridge, MA-based GrabCAD, a maker of design software and convener of mechanical engineers. The deal closed Tuesday.

Back in January, I put GrabCAD on my short list of local startups that might become the “next great Boston tech company.” Alas, no longer. But $100 million is nothing to sneeze at, and Minnesota- and Israel-based Stratasys (NASDAQ: SSYS) might end up being a great parent company for GrabCAD.

“Though my dream was always to build a big independent company in Boston, it felt right to go with this company at this time,” GrabCAD co-founder and CEO Hardi Meybaum says. “I got really excited about the opportunity. Stratasys was thinking about building certain things that are already on our roadmap.”

Meybaum (pictured above) came to Boston in 2010 from Estonia, the country that gave us Skype technology. GrabCAD went through the Techstars Boston accelerator program in 2011 and ended up raising about $14 million, primarily from Boston-area investors—some pretty savvy acquisition experts among them, including Matrix Partners’ David Skok and CRV’s Izhar Armony.

GrabCAD attracted an online community of some 1.5 million mechanical engineers and product designers who use computer-aided design (CAD) software. The company also developed Web-based collaborative software for business and industrial CAD users.

As is often the case, the acquisition came down to people and timing, Meybaum says.

“Bre Pettis became a good friend of mine while he was building MakerBot,” says Meybaum. In 2013, Stratasys acquired Pettis’s 3D printer company, based in New York, for about $400 million in stock. “He said, `Hardi, you should join the Stratasys family as well, there’s so [many] things we can do together.’ Then I met the Stratasys people and realized how [many] synergies there are between the two companies.”

Apart from using words like “synergies,” it sounds like things won’t change much for Meybaum and GrabCAD, at least in the short term. The 50-person company will continue as a separate entity, but Meybaum declined to give specifics on hiring plans or future products. “I do not even know what my title is,” he jokes, adding that he will report to Tal Dilian, executive vice president of global products and technology at Stratasys. (Meybaum will remain CEO of GrabCAD.)

“Fundamentally what we believe is, we help mechanical engineers and companies get their products to market faster,” Meybaum says. “We [GrabCAD] do it through collaborative software. They [Stratasys] do it through 3D printers.”

And that sector has really matured in the past year or so. “3D printing is changing very quickly. There are so many new companies coming in, and the innovation happening in this area is just exploding. My interest is on the industrial side, less on the consumer side,” he says. “It’s not just hype, it’s very real.”

Meybaum says he hasn’t had a chance to reflect much on the past four years. “You learn a lot in a company that is in a mature market and you try to change it. Some lessons are hard, and some are good,” he says. “What we were doing is creating something really valuable for the market.”

While GrabCAD could have kept growing on its own, he adds, “I have no regrets on this one. It’s the right people at the right time.”

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and Editor of Xconomy Boston. E-mail him at gthuang [at] xconomy.com. Follow @gthuang

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  • Stan Przybylinski

    This is also a response to 3D Systems creating an alternate product development toolset to the standard PLM-related solutions that use more traditional (subtractive) manufacturing processes.