- Associated Press - Saturday, May 3, 2014

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - A lot has changed in a short period of time for a 3D print startup company that launched one year ago in a downtown Columbia business incubator.

ZVerse, formerly known as DoodleSculpt, got significant initial interest when it opened last year, as consumers discovered 3D technology and some of its novel applications. Months into the launch, however, owner John Carrington’s business was in danger of folding and in need of an economic infusion, he said.

Instead of going under, ZVerse went to went on a tear through the Southeastern Conference, securing licensing rights with 24 major universities - including South Carolina, Alabama, Auburn, LSU, Georgia, Florida and Tennessee - to produce official school consumer products. The company has raised $1 million in venture capital, Carrington said, and has moved out of the incubator and into a large manufacturing facility to meet growing demand for products produced with the technology of the future.

Widely acknowledged as the nation’s premier athletic conference, the SEC is domineering in college football, having claimed seven of the last eight national championships. The company also secured collegiate licensing contracts with a range of other schools, including Atlantic Coast Conference schools Clemson, Georgia Tech and Florida State, college football’s 2013 national champion.

“These schools don’t just award licenses to anyone, so that’s really a testament to the products that we were able to produce,” Carrington said, noting all their products are made and sourced in America and can be made on demand to capitalize on events.

ZVerse has mastered a 3D application it uses to produce highly-detailed reproductions of college stadiums, currently its major niche.

In May, a major sports marketing company took notice of ZVerse’s work and urged the Columbia company to pursue licensing, Carrington said. By June, ZVerse was doing pieces for ESPN and the Espy Awards, Carrington said, turning a two-dimensional photograph of former Texas A&M; quarterback and 2012 Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel into six environmental marketing pieces in 3D.

“That reaffirmed our belief there was something here,” he said, in terms of content that people would pay for, and in new and exciting products ZVerse could make.

It really all “started” for the company in August, though, when Carrington said the company got its first collegiate licensing agreement with his alma mater, the University of South Carolina.

“In August and September we were already selling into all the national retailers that carry Carolina products,” Carrington said. ZVerse was by then an approved vendor for Fanatics, “which is huge,” he said, and Barnes & Noble, as well as regional retailers.

“Very quickly we were inserted, which I was told by my people that, it doesn’t happen like that (every day), so we felt great about that,” Carrington said.

ZVerse’s flagship product is stadium replicas, Carrington said. “Our stadium replicas are not like anything anyone has seen before and are not produced like anyone has seen before.”

Traditionally, college stadium replicas are crafted by a manufacturer, hand-painted in China, then shipped to the procurer, Carrington said. A business would have to order 10,000 of the painted replicas, of say, Williams-Brice Stadium, and hope they sell, he said.

But college stadiums change all the time, so a fledgling business could be stuck with a large, outdated inventory that is unsalable.

“With our technology, or with this form of 3D manufacturing, that’s the beauty of it - it specializes in short runs,” Carrington said. If 500 of a particular item sells, that’s great, Carrington said. If 5,000 are needed, that’s even better, but either way, his small business is not left with the cost, or the loss, of storing huge inventory.

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