Jason Szolomayer ’02 (finance) is the founder of 3dp4me, a nonprofit dedicated to providing hearing aid solutions to the world’s underprivileged through 3-D printing. The Cal State Fullerton grad’s first project is providing ear molds for hearing aids to Middle East refugees and low-income residents in Jordan.
When longtime Costa Mesa resident and CSUF finance grad Jason Szolomayer ’02 taught English in the Middle Eastern kingdom of Jordan, he volunteered at the Holy Land Institute for the Deaf and Blind, where he witnessed firsthand the challenges of providing aid to the hearing impaired.
Globally, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), some 466 million people have a hearing disability worldwide, 70% of whom are in developing countries, where such a challenge can result in loss of employment, education or self-development opportunities. As many as 34 million school-aged children worldwide struggle with hearing challenges.
Working with his partner, Brother Andrew de Carpentier, chair of World Wide Hearing, Szolomayer changes lives with 3-D printing technologies, which creates personalized silicone mold aids. Their new nonprofit, 3dp4me, an acronym for “3-D Printing for the Middle East,” is currently fundraising and registering to offer hearing aid molds to those in need, particularly children.
While initially focusing on Middle East populations in partnership with the Hearing Express project, it is a concept that the social entrepreneur hopes will be replicated in other global regions.
“We started in Jordan because this is where I live and serve, and I have grown to love these people,” says Szolomayer. “The war in Syria still rages just over an hour from our home, and our own neighborhood is filled with Syrian and Iraqi refugees. There are an incredible number of war injuries and not enough aid to help with the needs. Plus, we live in a ghetto and have seen the needs of the resident low-income Jordanians and Palestinians we live among.”
Szolomayer envisions future initiatives providing high-quality 3-D printed prosthetic solutions using selective laser sintering (SLS) 3-D printing technology, which allows for more complex geometric creations.
3dp4me is already planning to use new 3D ear scanning capabilities, using an MIT-licensed format provided by Lantos Technologies, one of the nonprofit’s partners.
“A portable 3D ear scanner gives us the ability to see a client in their home, village or a refugee camp,” explains Szolomayer. “Once we complete this scan, a 3D model is created in real-time on our internet cloud. Meanwhile, back in the lab, our 3D modeler can immediately start preparing the files for 3D printing.”
For more on this scanning process, please see this YouTube video, produced by 3dp4me.
A Desire to Make an Impact Incubates a Nonprofit Concept
A Newport Harbor High School grad, Szolomayer worked 30 hours weekly cleaning golf clubs in the bag room of Newport Beach Country Club while he earned his finance degree at Cal State Fullerton. A desire to give back promoted him to leave the Orange County commercial banking space and take an assignment teaching English to the underprivileged in Jordan, where he developed the vision for his hearing aid initiative.
“It started as I was dreaming about ways to practically help people with their real-life needs. I had a tremendous amount of support from my wife and family, and I had a few advisors who helped me work through the visionizing process,” he says. “Then, as I built the 3dp4me volunteer team, they began providing countless hours of support. It is much harder than you think, and it takes longer than you would expect, but it’s worth fighting for. I always keep at the forefront of my mind those who will benefit with the gift of hearing.”
Szolomayer’s partner played a major role in developing the vision for the Hearing Express Project. Originally from the Netherlands, Carpentier was director of the Holy Land Institute for the Deaf, where he has been instrumental in providing thousands of hearing aids to children and adults in the region, including 2,000 Syrian refugees living in Jordan.
It is relationship-building that Szolomayer sees as most crucial in nonprofit formation. “It comes down to people – spending time with people, cultivating relationships, treasuring people, really getting to know them out of genuine interest,” he says. “Then when you cast a vision for your cause, you can identify who is really interested in being a champion of it and provide them with some basic tools to share the story with others.”
While launching the 3dp4me concept has been hard work, Szolomayer says perseverance has been essential. “Work hard and enjoy the journey. Don’t always look at the destination,” he says. “Over the last few years, I have been focused on building a strong foundation for 3dp4me. It’s been a lot of time trying to get all our ducks in a row – building a team, securing critical partnerships and strategic planning. Now it is coming down to execution and making wise decisions.”
How to Get Involved
Szolomayer is currently fundraising toward a $200,000 goal. As of early December, the startup had raised more than $25,000, buoyed by recent media coverage, including an article in the Los Angeles Times.
The concept is currently seeking philanthropic partners, either on the individual or corporate level, to provide financial gifts, percentages of sale, matching and in-kind donations. They are also seeking funding partnerships, media coverage and inclusion in community events.