By Rich Stump, Co-Founder and Principal at FATHOM
In 2014, FATHOM was number two on ICIC’s Inner City 100 list of the fastest-growing inner city businesses in the U.S. FATHOM is an anchor in Oakland’s mixed-use Jack London Square, which is currently undergoing major reinvestment and revitalization.
As a kid, I was always fascinated by invention and coming up with new ideas that could solve problems. When I was introduced to 3D printing shortly after graduating from college, I knew I had to be a part of this technology. I was convinced it would be disruptive in how products would be designed and manufactured in the future.
In 2008, the US was in the middle of one of the worst recessions in history. It seemed crazy to start a business at that time, but it ended up being the best decision my partner and I ever made. I met Michelle Mihevc through a mutual friend from college. I was experienced in product development and product simulation, and Michelle was a recruiter for software sales. We had the opportunity to be one of the first U.S. distributors for Objet (now Stratasys), a company headquartered in Israel that was manufacturing a photopolymer 3D printing system. FATHOM began in a garage in San Ramon, California with one professional desktop 3D printer.
Since then, we have grown FATHOM to be one of the fastest growing private companies (INC 500|5000 – NO. 369 in 2013 and NO. 1312 in 2014; ICIC Inner City 2014 – NO. 1 in Manufacturing and NO. 2 overall; SF Business Times – NO. 39 in 2013 and NO. 32 in 2014). FATHOM now has over 55 employees and two production centers (Oakland, CA & Seattle, WA) with nearly 35 large-scale 3D printing systems and other traditional manufacturing technologies. We recently were awarded the East Bay EDA Innovation Award in the Advanced Manufacturing category.
By being very conservative in the beginning, we have been able to accomplish this growth without having to raise any capital. After expanding from Michelle’s garage, we partnered with other complementary companies to share office space. We kept expenses very low while maintaining a strong emphasis on sales growth and cash flow. We didn’t start focusing on expansion until the end of 2011, when we had put away enough cash to support the growth of the business. We decided to establish our headquarters in Oakland’s Jack London Square, where we found an old brass foundry with amazing character that had been built in 1901. We used this space for our first production center – making it a modern foundry using advanced technologies. Because we are headquartered in the Silicon Valley, we have access to the world’s hub of high-tech development and innovation, enabling our rapid growth.
I attribute our success to the three biggest assets of FATHOM. The first is our people; we have the best team in the world. The second is our customers. We have the most advanced customers developing the highest quality products on the planet. The third is the technology; we couldn’t have picked a better partner than Stratasys (NASDAQ: SSYS) to help grow our business. By distributing their machines and developing expertise around 3D printing and additive manufacturing, we have been able to help our customers accomplish things that were previously impossible.
When we first started the company in 2008, most of our customers used 3D printing to make prototypes. Now, applications range from prototyping to making actual production parts on the printers. The industries range from consumer product companies to aerospace to even more exotic industries like film and entertainment. Nearly all the projects that we work on are extremely confidential, but I can confidently say that FATHOM impacts hundreds of products you interact with on a daily basis. Every day, industry-leading companies leverage FATHOM’s expertise to put satellites into orbit, electric cars on freeways, and a full spectrum of devices into people’s hands and homes.
At the end of 2013, we opened a Seattle office and production center to expand our presence in the Pacific Northwest. We have been consistently expanding in both locations. Bringing on one expert after another, we’ve developed ways to innovatively compress industry standard lead-times so products go to market faster and more efficiently. By combining 3D printing technologies with traditional manufacturing technologies, we are helping customers solve high-value problems.
One recent project we worked on involved creating a prosthetic hand for Isabella, a 4-year-old girl in need. A prosthetic can cost several thousand dollars. When a child is growing quickly, financing the ever-changing needs of the prosthetic becomes difficult. Our design and production teams were able to use 3D printing and stock components to produce a functional hand for Isabella.
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I am very excited about the future of additive manufacturing. 3D printing has been a huge buzzword over the last 24 months. Gartner named 3D printing one of the top technology trends in 2015. It is now rare to talk to someone who hasn’t heard of 3D printing. Even my grandmother now knows about 3D printing. So much has changed since 2008. At FATHOM, we have been able to develop a culture and brand that will allow for an unlimited amount of future growth. Manufacturing and supply chains are going change over the coming years, and we will have a large impact on that.
For 16 years, ICIC has been recognizing the 100 fastest-growing businesses located in America’s inner cities through our Inner City 100 program. We are now accepting applications! Learn more: https://www.surveygizmo.com/s3/1954396/c765d5f2bceb