January 31, 2020 • By Xanat Hernandez
Eva Wolf, EMBA ’21, understands the value of a hard day’s work. Growing up as a first-generation Mexican immigrant, Wolf and her family picked grapes in the San Joaquin Valley to make a living and afford basic necessities. Her strong work ethic drives her to pursue an MBA at The UCI Paul Merage School of Business while serving as CEO of AirWolf 3D, a 3D printing company.
“It wasn’t for fun; it was to make money to buy school clothes,” explained Wolf. It’s difficult work. The temperature gets up to 100 degrees; the humidity is off the charts. Sometimes we dodged planes dumping fertilizer. But it just makes you that much stronger.”
A self-professed “numbers girl,” Wolf began working as a municipal bond consultant for a government servicing company while she earned her bachelor’s degree in business administration.
“I had to finance my education myself, so it was slow-going, but even then, I was able to apply what I was learning in the classroom to my job the very next day,” said Wolf. “I didn’t get my bachelor’s degree until I was 30 years old.”
Life in 3D
In 2012, her life changed again when her husband Erick began constructing a 3D printer in their garage. Erick Wolf was a patent attorney, but he also had a degree in mechanical engineering and was determined to build a car of his own design.
After weeks of concentrated effort, Erick called Eva to the garage. It was two in the morning, and he was still wearing the suit he had worn to court that day. The printer had produced a headlight for his car’s prototype.
“To me the printer looked and sounded like a machine from a sci-fi film,” she said. It was unbelievable that it could make an object appear out of thin air—and it was exhilarating. I was hooked!”
Eva decided to try to sell the printer on Craigslist. To their surprise, they received dozens of calls about the printer and it sold in less than 24 hours. This was the beginning of Airwolf 3D.
“Once we realized the potential of 3D printers, we fell in love with manufacturing and began to work for ourselves,” said Wolf. “I taught myself web design, SEO, and e-commerce. Today we engineer, manufacture and ship 3D printers from our facility in Southern California. We offer trainings, professional workshops onsite and support our 75 resellers worldwide.”
Back to School
Though Wolf relished her ability to learn independently, soon she was ready to pursue her MBA and applied to The Paul Merage School of Business.
“If you’re going to be a successful business owner, you need to know the current trends,” she said. “I didn’t want just any MBA. The Merage School is all about data, digital strategy, and analytics, and you need those tools in your arsenal.”
With her business and her home located in Orange County, the short commute to UCI made the decision to return to school even easier.
“I finished school 15 years ago, and it doesn’t seem that long ago, but in the digital world, that’s decades upon decades. If you’re in business today, you almost have to go back to school.”
Just like her undergrad days, Eva finds that she can apply the concepts she learns in the classroom to her business the very next day.
“I’ve already learned how data can help me decide when to launch my next printer and what price point will perform best. And I get to bounce off business ideas with my classmates, they’re a talented group of C-level executives, doctors, lawyers, entrepreneurs and experts in their fields.”
A New Chapter for 3D Printing
Wolf views her role as a digital leader as an opportunity to help others. In 2015, she brought students together for a 3D printathon to print prosthetic hands. Now, she is involved in Servathon, a day of community service held annually on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
For Servathon 2020, the students at Anaheim High School helped her print children’s books in Braille.
“I wrote a series of children’s books for children learning how to read,” said Wolf. “But I realized that children that are visually impaired don’t get the full experience. I want them to be able not only feel the shape of the words, but to also feel the shape of the illustrations, and that’s why I’m printing the pages using our printers.”
Ten students from Anaheim High School inputted the necessary data and printed several different prototypes for the project, which will be sent to Braille Institutes for feedback.
For engineering and manufacturing teacher Ron Ponce, the cause hits close to home.
“I just love this project because I believe in helping people that have disabilities,” he said. “My grandfather was blind. When I was five years old, the very first thing I wrote in Braille was ‘I love you.’ This is technology that helps other people and inspires me as a teacher.”