Iowa City is a quintessential college town: It’s hard to delineate where the University of Iowa campus stops and the city begins, and they often work together, the 33,000-student academic hub powering the local economy, much like the heart pumping away in the body.

These days, the city and school, long famous for graduate programs like the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, are making inroads and investments in the fast growing 3D-printing sector. Their specific focus: 3D printed prototyping of medical devices. Iowa City, after all, is home to the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics (UIHC), a celebrated and expanding teaching hospital.

In recent years, state and local leaders have adopted a long-term strategy to transfer research from UI’s state-owned entities into private, local enterprises. So far, incubators in an off-campus research park have spun out nearly 100 companies. Still, economic development officials worried they were missing opportunities, specifically in the red-hot medical device field—now a $140 billion industry.

Enter Protostudios, a small 3D-prototyping shop that last May became the inaugural tenant at MERGE, a co-working space for entrepreneurs in downtown Iowa City. Local leaders hope the startup can serve as a catalyst for a new regional industry.

Chuck Romans, Photostudios’ prototyping director, has a master of fine arts degree from UI. He’s an expert at creating functional, aesthetically refined products. With a single computer running CAD and a trio of 3D printers (a Stratasys J750, a Stratasys F370, and a Markforged Mark Two), Romans can often design and manufacture a…

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