By now we’ve all seen or heard about 3D printers, those microwave-looking machines used to make three-dimensional solid objects. Depending on the material, 3D printers can make pretty much anything—plastic toys, ceramic vases, machine parts and even food. Research shows that human body parts are in our printable future.
It’s mind-boggling to think about the potential, as well as the pitfalls. But I was a liberal arts major; Brad Woods was not. The founder of The Virtual Foundry, Woods says his 3D printing innovation “crawled its way out of my basement” and into his startup in downtown Stoughton well before 3D printing technology took off.
As the story goes, Woods was working on techniques to create metal objects without a foundry or a forge, and with artists as the intended customers. When Woods first discovered 3D printers, so began his three-year “quest to develop a product that would let any desktop 3D printer create pure metal output,” he explains on his website.
With angel funding from a friend and believer in Woods’ ideas and intellect, Woods invented a copper-based filament material—patent pending—trademarked Filamet. A Kickstarter campaign ensued to bring the product to market, enabling Woods to purchase an extruder to build his own Filamet processing equipment.
Filamet is sold in rolls and bulk pellets for use in 3D printers. His recent print projects include trophies for the first annual 3D Printing Industry Awards in London, held in May.
A consummate inventor, Woods reminds me of the single-minded genius characters like Gene Wilder’s Willy Wonka or Christopher Lloyd’s Doc Brown. Except Woods is the real deal.
“I’m a proudly self-taught computer scientist,” Woods writes on his LinkedIn profile. “I bought my first computer with money I earned mowing lawns when I was about 12 years old. I’ve been driven by obsession ever since.”
It feels very Midwestern that Woods’ product is inexpensive and readymade for anyone with a desktop 3D printer. But it’s also being used as a research and development prototype tool for the likes of NASA, the U.S. Department of Energy, Trek and Lockheed Martin. When Woods presented the technology to Lockheed Martin, one engineer dubbed it “the holy grail” of 3D printing.
When I asked Woods about his next move, he told me the company is building momentum and ready for more investment capital. If I weren’t about to send a kid off to college, I’d put my money on him. To learn more, visit thevirtualfoundry.com.
Women’s ’trep day
Laura Gallagher, president and founder of the public relations and digital agency The Creative Company, started her business at her kitchen table in 1989 when she was just 21 years old.
I’m fairly certain she hasn’t stopped moving since. Fast- forward to 2017. Gallagher, who was inspired by the Women’s Entrepreneurship Day gathering at the United Nations last year, signed the licensing agreement to bring the event to Wisconsin on Nov. 14 at Monona Terrace.
The daylong conference promises to “empower, celebrate, inspire and support women in business and leadership.” I’m signed up (I was the first registrant, Gallagher tells me!), and look forward to a day of women-led panels, networking and a promising session: a live think-tank experience where attendees will meet experts to discuss and explore relevant topics.
Kudos to Gallagher for pulling together an impressive and influential advisory board rich in diversity and experience. Register at wedwisconsin.org.
2017 Wisconsin Tech Council Conference
On the evening of Nov. 14, Wisconsin Tech Council’s annual Early Stage Symposium kicks off with the WOMEN Reception, likely attracting the Women’s Entrepreneurship Day crowd. The name of the reception would be weird if it weren’t an acronym for Women, Opportunity, Mentors, Entrepreneurs and Networking.
On Nov. 15 and 16 at Monona Terrace, there are panels, plenaries, presentations and the Elevator Pitch Olympics—a 90-second business pitch competition judged by a panel of experienced investors. Register at wisconsintechnologycouncil.com.
Brennan Nardi is communications director at Madison Community Foundation and a former editor of Madison Magazine. Reach her at email@example.com.