Chattanoogan: Mike Bradshaw – Maker-His-Day In 3D

Monday, February 25, 2013 - by Jen Jeffrey

Chattanooga is an up and coming city and with people like Mike Bradshaw; it always will be. Mike has been a visionary since he was a youth in Middleburg, Va. He comes by it honestly as his parents Charlie and Virginia were hard working self-starters, too.

“Both my parents had quit high school and started businesses. My mother worked for a dozen years at a boutique and ended up buying it. She had customers like Jackie Kennedy who would do her Christmas shopping there. Jackie would give her a list of people she wanted to have gifts sent to,” Mike says.

His father rode into town on a tractor and started selling cars. With hard work and ambition he then got into selling houses and shopping centers and ended up in banking.

“He built his own bank,” Mike says, “just like my cousin Paul, who also never graduated high school. One day when they were closing up the bank, my father said to Paul, ‘If we came in here to apply for work, what job here would we qualify for?’ There was a guy mopping the floor and they knew that was the only one,” Mike laughs and reiterates that they were the president and CEO of the bank when the conversation occurred.

“I left college when I was 18 after my first year, breaking my mother’s heart and began my career as a dishwasher,” Mike quips. “I was there for about a dozen years and worked my way up in the kitchen until I ended up owning a place.”

Mike confesses that his decision was childish as he was exploring early adulthood. “I became of age in the seventies and I wanted to test myself. I got on ships and explored the world as a chef on private motor yachts.”

Mike acknowledges that being an entrepreneur is in his blood. “It turns out when you are in entrepreneurship - and I teach this stuff now - that it is a signifier, but if you have a family history of this sort of illness, it’s a good predictor of your destiny,” he laughs.

Mike had started off wanting to be an aeronautical engineer and he got his license to fly when he was 17 years old.

“My first time that I flew was at 15 - a  J-3 Piper Cub, made of balsa wood and canvas and with a little 80-horsepower engine in it. I could fly it so slow, I could get into a good stiff headwind and back it up relative to the ground and freak out my friends. I went into engineering school with that in mind and found out that wasn’t for me. That is when I broke my mother’s heart and dropped out,” Mike confesses.

Middleburg was a great place for Mike to grow up. It impressed him knowing that the town had industrial barons from the early part of the century who had developed large estates.

“A whole set of people who worked for them and their families came up out of that. With the Jackie Kennedy thing and my parents not graduating – that was what I admired most about them – that they went their own way and they were enormously successful. They were the hardest working people you have ever seen; very smart and charismatic,” Mike says.

After closing down a division of a company in Boston, Mike opened one up in Knoxville.

“I had sold my restaurant because I had heard about this thing called, ‘CD ROM’ and thought it was going to change the world - and it did sort of. A customer of mine had the rights to publish Time Magazine on a little piece of plastic. I just overheard them saying, ‘Well, maybe you could try this’ …it was just two guys talking at a table and I was just flabbergasted and I explained to them about something that I had been thinking about for a few years. They said, ‘Wow, let’s have another talk about that.’ I ended up selling my restaurant and joining that company and I worked without pay for many months living off the proceeds from my restaurant,” Mike says.

The three-person company had sold more CD ROMS than any non-business application. After he sold his business, Mike went back to school in Georgetown.

“We were bought by a large company and I got a little money from that and moved to Boston to work for them. We had 40 people by this time working for us in DC. We were very successful in helping develop that new little industry. CD ROM was nothing and then it grew. We published ‘Reader Rabbit’ and ‘Where in the World is Carmen San Diego’ and a bunch of kid titles that were eventually bought by Mattel,” Mike says.

He mentions the television show ‘Shark Tank’ and says, “The ‘mean shark’ is my old boss. His name is Kevin O’Leary. He was the president of The Learning Company. Over the course of several years, I would be the guy they would send off to weird places. I had an opportunity – which was totally insane - to open a fiberoptic cable business in Marion County, Tn., and sure enough, we strung fiber across the whole thing,” Mike declares.

After finishing studies at Georgetown Mike found that he really loved school and graduated first in his class. “I was trying to make my mother proud and I am glad that I got to do that before she passed away. I couldn’t settle for anything less than the best because I was still sad about what I had done to her when I was 18 - it was my motivation,” he says.

When Mike came to the area to open Trinity Cable, which is still in operation, they had hired a man from Texas who would eventually become the president of that company.

“That is a great passion too,” Mike says, “to start little things and they may stay little but they still employ four to five people who can make their living doing it.”

Making a difference in people’s lives is what Mike equates to being a successful entrepreneur. He decided to go back to school and get his master’s degree at UTC. When it was time to leave Trinity, Mike founded a small start-up company marketing online learning. He is an adjunct-professor at UTC teaching ‘Successfully Launching New Ventures’.

“It is a great thing to do. I love keeping in contact with the kids and it led to me walking in the doors here at Co-Lab. I am their entrepreneur-in-residence, a co-director of this operation. I manage the internal operations. It’s a place filled with some of the smartest people you will ever meet who are very dedicated to a goal,” Mike maintains.

He and wife Maura have a passion for their four Pug pooches. “My wife puts up with me through all this stuff,” Mike chuckles. “Hey honey …I have a new idea…” he jokes.

When talking about his Pugs, Mike hem-haws around the idea of possibly adding a fifth dog. “I found a puppy in the middle of the road; we have had rescued foster dogs - mostly pugs, but this little dog that I took to McKamey was a particular breed my wife wanted. She wanted a little dog she could ‘put in her purse’ and our passions are our dogs. I told them at McKamey, ‘Don’t you dare let anything happen to this little dog’,” Mike says and adds, “If nobody claims it tomorrow …we will have a fifth dog – that dog will probably end up in the house tomorrow,” he smiles.

The latest thing that Mike has his hand in is the 3D Printer called Makerbot. His eyes light up as he shares about an elderly man and wife who were just at Co.Lab talking to him about it.

“The 3-D printer has been around for a long time, but not everyone has heard about it. You can’t look at it and not think of all the things that you can do with it. Markets that are accessible to ordinary people are starting to build up around it. It’s a symbol and represents a big opportunity in itself of how entrepreneurial thought can find an outlet home,” Mike says.

The 3D Printer is being used by industry for very specialized purposes - mainly product design prototyping, and production of difficult-to-make parts that have limited quantities associated with it. What is different about 3-D printing from any other manufacturing technology that existed prior to its development is that you can capture an image created in a CAD program and build a 3D model of it.

The 3D Printer is a process of making a three-dimensional solid object of virtually any shape from a digital model. 3D printing is achieved using an additive process, where succeeding layers of material are laid down in different shapes. 3D printing is considered separate from traditional machining techniques, which mostly rely on the removal of material by methods such as drilling or cutting.

A market place in New York opened this past November called Shapeways, offering products made from a 3D printer - from a macro lens for your iPhone to a mini-figurine of Keanu Reeves.

“Just as you tell a printer to print out a document, it’s telling that printer what to print out with just one extra dimension. It is a borderline mystical experience. You don’t even have to know why or how – it just happens. And what is beautiful is there are a lot of possibilities,” Mike explains.

An event on March 16 called “Maker Day” will be held at the Public Library on the fourth floor but Mike points out that the ‘4th Floor’ is also the name of the organization with the Library.

“We are very fortunate to have them. They are very far-sighted people. They are visionaries who have identified 3D printing and a lot of surrounding technology as an avenue by which to take information and do something with it,” Mike says.

“It was easy to have them catch this energy at Co.Lab and add to it and make this thing happen. It should be branded as a library event and Co.Lab is here as an organization to intervene and to be a table setter. Bringing people together, adding energy into things - as you can see clearly the energy I have for it,” Mike professes.

“We are going to put together as many 3D printers as we can find. They range from home-made units to this desk top unit that we have here. We have people from UTC that are going to contribute and we hope they are going to bring down some local machines. The local office of a national copy company, called Nova Copy, is going to pitch in. This is the future. We will have some industry players, such as Chattanooga Regional Manufacturers Association,” Mike says.

The SimCenter has built a 3D model existent software of the entire city of Chattanooga. It is used for cutting-edge problems of first responders coming in the event of a disaster.

“They gave us this model to use in this event. We are going to print out a table-sized 3D model of the city. Already, architectural firms are using this to print out 3D ideas. We will have a bunch of ‘souvenirs from the future’ and, even though this has been going on for years, most people’s jaws just drop when they see this,” Mike vows.

“The real passion for me is being able to work with a lot of really smart people. I have developed a real appreciation for them. You come into the question, ‘How do we get kids involved in science, technology, engineering and math today? I think it’s the ‘school-in-steps’ thing with the attitude of, ‘here is just another great thing to learn’. You can make product design and development fun and engaging in the same way web design and development made geeks ‘cool’ – who would have ever thought that software developers would become sexy?” Mike teases.

“This is going to make product design and engineering cool.  It’s about the geeks, man,” Mike laughs, “Our time has come!” 

For a video preview:

Visit Co.Lab at: or contact Mike at:

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