3D pizza printer heading to ‘Shark Tank’ appearance; Vandy alum is company’s CMO

Jordan French (center, in vest) and the BeeHex team at this year's SXSW. (Photos courtesy of BeeHex.)

The idea of using 3D printing to make pizzas began as an experiment in getting an American favorite into the hands of hungry NASA astronauts. Thanks to a chance connection, a Vanderbilt engineering alum is shepherding the invention to market, a process sure to get a major boost from an upcoming appearance on ABC’s hit show “Shark Tank.”

Jordan French (BE’07) is chief marketing officer for Houston-based BeeHex Inc. He met the company’s founder, Anjan Contractor, when they both were working for NASA – Contractor on a grant for 3D printing food and French as a payload engineer on the Mars Gravity Biosatellite.

Now, French is using not only his engineering background but also his Washington University law school degree and publicity and strategy skills to market the printer for fast-casual dining. He recently promoted it at Austin’s famed SXSW event and will travel to IoT World May 10-12 in Santa Clara, California.

In a recent interview, French discussed his entrepreneurial path and why he believes the world is ready for customized, printed pizza.

How does BeeHex work? It was surprising that you can print dough shaped like hearts — or anything you want, really.

BeeHex 3D printers.

Our patent-pending pneumatic system works like a piston. The dough, if you push on it, will liquefy a little more, and our extruder also can handle real mozzarella cheese. Of course, the sauce flows a lot more easily than dough – the pressure changes when the printer extrudes a different ingredient. That’s unlike other extruders.

Because our extruder is a smart pneumatic system, and it operates much like a piston, it can push and pull. When we want it to stop pushing out, it pulls back and creates a pressure gap, a vacuum that sucks the food back up a bit. That avoids the issues other printers have with leakage or dripping.

Pistons have been around for a long time, but we’re the first to implement something like this in 3D printing.

Who is your customer?

They’re businesses going after what millennials keep asking for: customization, customization, customization. We’re in the fast-casual market where people want to decide what and how things go into their food.

We can change up very easily the ingredients and shape. We can even tell it, “Print a 600-calorie pizza,” and it will only use enough ingredients to hit that number. Someone could order heart-shaped pizzas on Valentine’s Day. Corporations can use it to print sweets into the shape of their logo.

After law school, you worked in intellectual property and as an enforcement attorney for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. That seems a long way from your biomedical engineering major.

I also work in publicity and strategy. Just because you have an engineering degree doesn’t mean you’re purely doing engineering. It means you can understand things and explain them to other people. In addition to all that, there are things I do for BeeHex from a technical standpoint. I’m as hands-on as CMO could get right now. I do work with the hardware, but only light duty.

A 3D-printed pizza.

What makes the ideal pizza?

I am no pizza expert. I am just told — and I say this with all humility — that I can make a really good pizza, and I won’t argue with that. My mother is 100 percent Sicilian. The sample that has gotten traction with new franchises is dough made with double-zero chef’s flour, honey olive oil, yeast and pink salt; then we add vodka sauce, real mozzarella and top it with buratta. That’s our not-so-secret BeeHex recipe.

So now you’re heading to “Shark Tank?”

We’ll go in late September as part of season eight. I got a phone call from one of the producers after I spoke to NPR. He explained that they rarely ever call out, but they heard about we were doing and wanted us on. What usually happens is you are considered as one of 40,000 applicants, so this is an exciting opportunity.


Heidi Hall, (615) 322-6614
On Twitter @VUEngineering