By Tom Ballard, Director of Innovation and Entrepreneurial Initiatives, Pershing Yoakley & Associates, P.C.
The large auditorium at Girls Preparatory School (GPS) was filled almost to capacity with people from Chattanooga, other locations across Tennessee, and beyond for a day of information sharing and celebration.
More than 700 individuals showed-up for yesterday’s opening session of the “GIGTANK Demo Day,” the first of a half-dozen similar accelerator graduations to be held across the state over the next several weeks as entrepreneurs present the start-ups they have been pursuing over the summer.
“Is there another mid-size city in America where you could have an audience like this on a Tuesday morning,” Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke asked? He received wild applause from the crowd.
CO.LAB’s Mike Bradshaw was pumped by the community turnout, involvement of top local leaders, and participation by leading executives in the 3D printing industry. More than 850 people either pre-registered or registered onsite on Tuesday.
In addition to celebrating the third “GIGTANK” cohort, “Demo Day” also highlighted an important new claim for the city.
“This event today marks the culmination of the first 3D printing accelerator in America,” Doug Speight told the attendees. The Knoxville resident has served as Entrepreneur-in-Residence for “GIGTANK” and leader of the 3D printing track.
Over much of the day, entrepreneurs from 10 start-ups presented their ideas to the appreciative crowd. For information about those companies, many previously profiled on teknovation.biz, click here (GIGTANK 2014 Startup Teams).
Terry Wohlers, President of Colorado-based Wohlers Associates, put an exclamation point on the uniqueness theme for “GIGTANK” during his keynote address.
“The energy level here . . . there’s something special about this place,” he said of Chattanooga. “The ‘get it done’ attitude is really impressive.”
Wohlers is a leading expert on 3D printing. For 19 of its 27 years, the firm that bears his name has published the Wohlers Report, an annual assessment of the industry. He and his colleagues also provide consulting services.
“The terms additive manufacturing and 3D printing are being used interchangeably,” Wohlers said. “Interest is at an all-time high.”
Explaining that the industry’s tipping point occurred in the third quarter of 2012, he showed a list of companies that are entering the sector even though, in some cases, they may not know the full reasons. For example, Amazon announced the opening of its 3D printing store earlier this week.
The “wildfire,” as Wohlers characterized it, is being spawned by several factors including the evolution of low-cost 3D printers, high-end applications, initiatives like “AmericaMakes,” and a 32.2 percent Compound Annual Growth Rate over the last three years.
He cited the Vice President for Emerging Technologies and Concepts at Airbus, who said he is spending 100 percent of his time on additive manufacturing matters. The company will have hundreds of machines producing parts for Airbus planes in the next five years.
“I’m glad this event is here (at GPS), because we need more women in the profession,” Wohlers said. His comment drew an appreciative response.
An important trend impacting 3D printing is the fact that many patents for additive manufacturing are expiring.
“This is going to really change the dynamics of the industry,” he noted.
Wohlers cautioned that 3D printing is not applicable in every situation.
“You can make almost anything,” but not everything, he said of the technology.
Another misconception is that everyone will have a general purpose 3D printer in their home.
“There will be printers running at home, but they will be (for) specialized (purposes),” not to make replacement parts for devices in the home, Wohlers believes.
(EDITOR’S NOTE: Look for additional articles from the “GIGTANK Demo Day” over the next week.)