A groundbreaking 3D printing business that got its start as a three-person company in the Hamilton County Business Development Center recently raised $11 million in funding to propel its next phase of growth.
"Branch's process is pioneering in and of itself," said John McCabe, director of communications and advanced concepts designer for Branch Technology. "The way we print, no one else does or can. All the hardware, software and material is developed in-house."
The company, which launched in 2014, has teams of algorithm scientists and physicists, among other technically skilled employees, and growing those teams as Branch expands into large commercial contracts for its products is a key goal, McCabe said. There are about 32 Branch employees now, and he estimates the company will add another seven or eight in the coming year.
"There's not just a single focus area," he said. "Every team will get some new talent infused into it."
As Branch expands, its 40,000-square-foot headquarters on Riverside Drive won't be large enough, and the company is exploring options to grow its footprint, McCabe said.
Contracts with the Department of Defense, including "off-world" projects on other planets, and major international partnerships are on the horizon as enthusiasm for large-scale construction using 3D printed materials takes hold, McCabe said.
"The construction industry was standoffish about 3D printing at first — they were one of the last ones to change," he said. "There's a lot of waste with the materials they use — blocks and sticks — and our process is very efficient and sustainable. That industry is transforming itself to be more circular, more responsible, more efficient."
The Chattanooga-based company raised $11 million in funding rounds led by EquipmentShare and supported by Brick & Mortar Ventures, Chattanooga Renaissance Fund, and others, McCabe said. Including an early funding round in 2018, Branch has raised over $22 million to develop and expand its construction-scale 3D printers and product lines.
In 2014, the company's founder, Platt Boyd, brought his 3D printing ideas to GigTank, a 12-week program through Chattanooga's CO.LAB that helps startup businesses get going. The company launched that same year in the Hamilton County INCubator, and moved in 2018 to its offices on Riverside Drive.
The challenge has been to transition from a technology company to a commercial company that sells a widely used and sought-after product, McCabe said. Branch is now evolving to that point, he added.
"One problem construction has is they can't find skilled labor, but if you come to Branch it's a ton of 20-somethings who are technically in the construction industry," he said. "We have found people that are interested in building a better world through construction with modern methods."
Contact Mary Fortune at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at @maryfortune.
The Tech Tribune compiled the best tech startups in Chattanooga, weighing several factors including revenue potential, leadership team, brand/product traction, and the competitive landscape. Branch came in at No. 4:
1. Bellhop, founded in 2012
2. FreightWaves, founded in 2016
3. Ambition, founded in 2013
4. Branch Technology, founded in 2014
5. WeCounsel Solutions, founded in 2011
6. Used Equipment Guide, founded in 2015
7. WorkHound, founded in 2015