The snowball effect: NT fund grows success for 3D metal printing firm

After securing a significant investment from the Northern Territory’s Paspalis Innovation Investment Fund, things started to “snowball” for advanced manufacturing tech firm SPEE3D.

In May 2019, the Paspalis fund – the first venture capital fund in the Northern Territory – chipped in $2 million to SPEE3D’s Series A round, impressed by the company’s next generation of deployable metal manufacturing in the form of 3D-printed metal.

Just months after the investment, the company started selling its product around the world. Across just a three-week period in 2019, SPEE3D installed five of its world-leading industrial printers around the world.


These devices are fast and easy to install, and can be printing metal parts within hours of arriving.

SPEE3D has also since partnered with the Australian Army to test the use of its technology as a military capability, and earlier this year sold its cold-spray metal 3D printing technology to the British Army.

For Paspalis chief executive Harley Paroulakis, SPEE3D is an example of the exact kind of company he wants to invest in and support.

“Being involved with a company like that from such an early research and development stage and to see that growth, we’re incredibly proud of the company and I think it’s going to be an incredibly successful business and an Australian exporter,” Paroulakis said.

“That’s an example of a really wonderful, high-tech and deep-tech company.”

Paspalis has operated in the Northern Territory for three generations, with Paroulakis’ grandfather founding the company. After experience in venture capital and corporate finance in Singapore, Paroulakis returned to Australia to helm the company 15 years ago.

In May 2017, Paspalis landed $500,000 from the federal government through its Incubator Support Programme to operate the Darwin Innovation Hub, which serves as a meeting point for commercialising businesses in the Territory, assisting in accessing grants and funding and in scaling technologies to market.

“That really put us in a position where we were getting exposure to companies that were seeking to commercialise and get investment,” Paroulakis said.

This led to the creation of the Paspalis Innovation Investment Fund in 2018. The company has since raised over $100 million in private capital across five funds, with a focus on early-stage companies providing benefit and economic growth in Northern Australia.

“The key part for us is we are seeking to invest in projects that create economic growth in Northern Australia – that’s our specialisation,” he said.

“Our point of difference is we know and understand Northern Australia – we’ve been here a very long time, and we operate the Darwin Innovation Hub. We have deep links into the rest of the country, plus into the Asia-Pacific.”

Originally, the fund focused on companies having a direct economic impact in the Northern Territory. It has now broadened this out to include all of Northern Australia, encompassing everything above the Tropic of Capricorn.

Paspalis’ portfolio also includes resource exploration and navigation firm Atomionics. Based in Singapore, the company is now conducting trials in mine sites across the Northern Territory.

The fund also invested in Corrosion Instruments in 2019 on the back of its cathodic protection monitoring and measurement equipment. Paspalis’ investment was matched by a federal government Accelerating Commercialisation grant.

After landing funding from Paspalis last year, Amphibian Aerospace Industries has opened a research and development centre at Darwin Airport to manufacture the Albatross G-1111T aircraft, which can take off and touch down from land, snow, ice and water. The company is now aiming to be the world leader in the development and production of these amphibian aerospace capabilities, which have applications in defence, tourism, border security and search and rescue.

“I think that the cornerstone of the venture capital component has really been a critical piece that private money can unlock government funding, or just get that confidence in a round so they can raise other money behind us,” Paroulakis said.

“Our crowding-in has been extraordinary.”

Paroulakis said local companies and other firms looking to make an impact in Northern Australia should get in touch with the company.

“We’re active investors,” he said.

“We’re always looking for a project which fits our criteria, and we really love to support companies that have a great story. We’ve got an open door and we’re very happy to talk with those companies.”

Source: Stuart Mason (InnovationAus)

This article was produced by in partnership with the Darwin Innovation Hub.