Thinking in 3D

Thinking Huts. A vision seven-years in the making for its 22-year-old Founder and CEO, Maggie Grout.

Maggie, a Business Administration graduate from the University of Colorado Boulder, has seen her dream of building a school for children in developing countries become a reality. But it’s not just any school she’s built. She built it using 3D printing technology. In Madagascar. During a pandemic.

In 2015, when she was a 15-year-old high school student, Maggie realised her desire to help children, who through no fault of their own did not have access to an education. The idea was cultivated largely given to her own personal experience of being adopted at a very young age.

Maggie then spent the next two-years working out the logistics of how to make her idea become a reality.

The technology

Sustainability and the use of technology for good are very much at the heart of what would become ‘Thinking Huts’. The specific idea for a 3D printed school only came to light after Maggie had a conversation with her father.

“I was just trying to figure out how to build it and make it from an idea to reality.

“I was in my dad’s office, and I was expressing that I was frustrated that not a lot of people seemed to be doing things to address problems in the world … especially in developing countries, there is a great need for schools [which are] largely not filled due to lack of resources.”

It was as she was expressing this frustration that her father told her of the advancements of 3D printing in architecture, which was in the beginning stages of construction.

The technology piqued Maggie’s interest, but it wasn’t quite advanced enough, yet. So, she continued to do research on the international development side of her philanthropic venture until the technology caught up with her vision.

The inspiration for the design of the school was based on a beehive, which is a representation of joining people together which, Grout claims, is what she is hoping to achieve to ensure a more holistic way of uniting people with education and technology.

After researching potential locations, it was decided that Madagascar was the right area for their first 3D printed school.

The challenges

The beginning is always hard, especially when you’re a young, female entrepreneur. But just because you don’t have the years of experience to draw on, it doesn’t mean you don’t know what you’re talking about. Especially when it comes to a project you feel passionately for.

“I think a lot of the challenges are on the personal side of trying to find my place in leadership, and then also growing the confidence to own my accomplishments because I think a lot of times when you are younger, and also since I am a woman within construction technology … people underestimate you, even if you have the answers and you’re more equipped and competent than other people … so I just had to overcome that.”


The early days involved a lot of cold emailing. There were people who said that it couldn’t be done, especially during the pandemic, and it seemed, to begin with, they were right. But not one to be deterred, the resourceful entrepreneur decided she needed to change the way she was raising awareness for the project. So, she set off on a press-pitching journey to spread the word, which, claims Grout “was the domino that set it all off.”

Maggie’s efforts led to some big donations, one of which was a fund-matching contribution from Jennifer Gates. These donations along with crowdfunding and other fundraising efforts led to them reaching their goal, and in April 2022 they saw their work come to fruition with the erection of ‘Bougainvillea’.

The vision

In sub-Saharan Africa 34 million students are out of school due to overcrowding or schools being up to nine miles away, with 45% of Madagascan children not enrolled in a school at all. According to UNESCO there is a need for 22,000 schools in Madagascar. This is a real problem and Thinking Huts wanted to create a real solution.

It isn’t just the desire for everyone to have access to an education that drives the entrepreneur, she is also an advocate of utilising local expertise, thus providing regular work for the community and boosting the economy.

The people of Madagascar also shared the team’s mission. “It was largely because of the people there, they were very excited and welcoming of the solution and the potential it has in the country, not only for school infrastructure, but even housing,” said Grout.

Schools in Madagascar are traditionally built using mud or soil bricks which are easily destroyed – especially in turbulent weather, so the construction materials Thinking Huts utilised needed to be able to withstand damaging weather conditions.

However, constructing a school the traditional way can take months, even years, to build.

In comparison, the 3D element of the Thinking Huts pilot school project took only 18 hours to complete, with the rest of construction taking around 12 to 14 days to finish.

The school has 3D printed walls that were constructed using a cement mixture. A larger machine then extruded the mixture through a nozzle, layering the foundations and building upon itself as it dried.

Grout said: “It’s a hybrid so the walls are 3D printed, but the roof, door, and windows are locally sourced materials … A lot of people think cement is bad, but it is much stronger. And so, if you use 3D printing, you’re reducing the amount of waste, so it does balance out in the end.”

The success of the school means that future schools can be built faster, be more sustainable, and stand for 100 years. And by utilising innovative technology, the gaps in education in underdeveloped countries can be bridged, and jobs can be created for local people.

Future plans

The hope is that the more schools Thinking Huts can construct, the more economical the project will become. The next hurdle for the team is obtaining a 3D printer. Because the first school was a pilot project, the equipment was rented. However, Maggie hopes that with the rapid advancement of technology they will be able to obtain their own machine – which was the biggest outlay. This, they believe, will reduce the unit cost, enabling them to build more schools, faster.

The plan is to build the next school on the west coast of Madagascar, which has 350 days of sunshine compared with the south-central pilot project, which receives a lot of rainfall. This is an important consideration because solar-powered electricity plays a pivotal role in the construction of the schools.

When asked how she plans to scale-up and the support that is needed, Grout said: “We’re mainly looking for philanthropic partners, whether that’s companies or individuals.

“We’re planning to purchase the printer next, and we already have land donated for the project, so it’s a matter of when we can implement that. But the plan is for it to be a honeycomb campus for multiple villages … we’re hoping to incorporate solar power because electricity is another obstacle.”

This article originally appeared in the Sept/Oct issue of Startups Magazine. Click here to subscribe.