This story is from the 2018 Access FYI: FedEx Young Innovators List. Explore more from this issue
Dr. Danielle Applestone

Dr. Danielle Applestone: Making Innovation Tools More Accessible

A woman and her machine are at the center of a manufacturing revolution that is bringing production back to the people.

Dr. Danielle Applestone

Master of the maker community Dr. Danielle Applestone got her first taste of engineering as a child, helping her parents make their home more accessible for her wheelchair-bound father, a Navy veteran. Once she gained admission into a science, technology, engineering and math (STEM)-focused boarding school at the age of 14, the Arkansas native knew she was heading down the right path.

Tinkering around quickly became more than just a hobby, and Applestone’s life centered around a mission to produce affordable computer numerical control (CNC) technology. (This is the technology behind cutting, carving and milling materials for prototyping and production purposes.) She had a dream of revolutionizing manufacturing in the U.S. by putting tools of innovation back in the hands of those who are problem solvers, entrepreneurs, engineers and artisans. In 2013, after obtaining a chemical engineering degree from MIT and a Ph.D. in materials science from the University of Texas at Austin, Applestone released the Othermill (now called the Bantam Tools Desktop PCB Milling Machine), a desktop CNC machine that sold for $2,100.

However, a long road to success awaited Applestone. After months spent in a futile funding search, the hardware entrepreneur finally gained the $6.5 million blessing of venture capitalists and angel investors to fund her company, known initially as Other Machine Co.

But getting involved with venture capitalists meant expected growth on a deadline. When that didn’t pan out the way Applestone had hoped, she made a decision to team up with Bre Pettis, who is another well-known maker and the co-founder and former CEO of MakerBot, which makes 3D desktop printers. Applestone sold her company, now Bantam Tools, to Pettis in May 2017 but remains CEO of her start-up for the people, with an unwavering vision of streamlining the manufacturing process and closing the gap on nearly 1 million unfilled manufacturing jobs. Applestone also recently launched Daughters of Rosie, an organization that works with manufacturers who want to sponsor women-only training programs.

“One of the most powerful things … is that new groups of people will gain abilities they never had access to before,” Applestone says about the desktop CNC. She points to real-life examples as proof: a company reducing the cost of microfluidics research, a student building the world’s greatest jumping robot within his advisor’s lab and artisan jewelers making high-precision metal parts themselves, boosting their profitability.

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