published Thursday, July 17th, 2014

Entrepreneurs pitch ideas for 3D printing businesses

Matt McLellend with Kenco Management Services looks at an item made with a 3D printer during a luncheon Wednesday hosted by the Chattanooga Technology Council at the Business Development Center. Three GigTank teams presented startup ideas at the luncheon related to 3D printers.
Matt McLellend with Kenco Management Services looks at an item made with a 3D printer during a luncheon Wednesday hosted by the Chattanooga Technology Council at the Business Development Center. Three GigTank teams presented startup ideas at the luncheon related to 3D printers.
Photo by Doug Strickland.

Most people are surprised when Lucy Beard tells them about her startup, Feetz.

The 3D printing company uses pictures of a person's feet to create 3D printed shoes that are customized to exactly fit that person's feet. After a customer uses the app to upload photos of his feet and pick a design for his shoes, Feetz prints the pair and ships it within seven days.

"People think, 'You can do that with 3D printing? All I've seen is printed Yoda heads,'" Beard joked.

She was one of three GigTank startups to speak at a Chattanooga Technology Council meeting Wednesday. Each company offered a glimpse into its business model and previewed the pitches they'll be giving again on July 29, when Co.Lab's summer-long accelerator GigTank culminates in Demo Day for the local entrepreneurs to ptich their business plans to top-level investors and venture capital firms.

Beard, who will be moving into the Business Development Center after GigTank, plans to print about 1,000 Feetz shoes per month. He is asking for $1.5 million in order to ramp up production. The company is about to start beta testing its shoes with 1,000 early customers, selling each hyper-customized pair for about $200.

After starting with a direct-to-consumer approach, Beard hopes to bring 3D printed shoes into shoe stores and eventually license her patented algorithms out to the major shoe brands like Nike or Reebok.

And while Beard works to end uncomfortable shoes forever, Daniel Hampton is diving deeper into the body. His company, 3DOps, can take a 2D scan like an MRI or X-ray and turn it into a 3D printed, anatomically accurate model.

So instead of holding an X-ray in her hand, a doctor can hold a plastic model of a lung. Or a heart. Or a brain.

"A surgeon can simulate your surgery before your surgery," Hampton said.

He plans to put his model-making technology into hospitals, just like an MRI machine or X-ray system. Within a year, hospitals will be able to lease a 3D printer and a qualified staff member from 3DOps to run the system right in the hospital for on-demand, almost-immediate production of 3D models.

With 12 months, Hampton hopes to have 12 centers embedded into hospitals across the Southeast, and hopes to add 13 more by the end of 3DOps' second year. He's asking for $2 million from investors.

Hampton and Beard are both focused on ways to use 3D printers in their businesses, but Lathon Technologies' Nothal Partansky is focused on building the printers themselves. Lathon Technologies builds desktop printers aimed specifically at architects and artists.

The printer is specialized to create complex sculptures, and fits objects 12 inches by 9 inches by 9 inches. But even beyond the printer, Partansky is expanding the company's offerings to include what he calls Lathon Logic. It'll be a diagnostic technology that will allow customers to quickly figure out what is wrong with their printer and fix it -- while talking with a live customer service representative, Partansky said.

He's partnering with Verizon for the machine-to-machine program, and plans to rapidly move to market. He's asking for $500,000 from investors this year, and wants to raise another $1.5 million next year.

"We want to truly be the one and only easy-to-use 3D printer," he said.

All three teams -- as well as eight other startups -- will complete the GigTank program this summer and pitch at Demo Day on July 29.

Contact staff writer Shelly Bradbury at 423-757-6525 or sbradbury@timesfreepress.com with tips or story ideas.

about Shelly Bradbury...

Shelly Bradbury covers police and crime in Chattanooga and Hamilton County for the Times Free Press. She's been with the paper since 2012, working first as an intern and then as a business reporter. She is from Houghton, New York, and graduated from Huntington University in Huntington, Indiana, with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and minor in management. Before moving to Tennessee, Shelly previously interned with The Goshen News, The Sandusky Register and The Mint ...

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