Growing up in rural Arkansas, Applestone could often be found tinkering away in her dad’s workshop. Having received admission to a free STEM boarding school, she then went on to gain an advanced degree in chemical engineering from the highly respected Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
From working as a materials scientist, Applestone then went on to receive a PhD in materials science and engineering from the University of Texas. Whilst there, she developed several battery materials, which have been patented and subsequently licensed. In 2013, Applestone moved to San Francisco to work on a government funded education project, from which Other Machine spun out.
Following a successful Kickstarter campaign, the start-up was off creating its desktop CNC milling machines.
However, with funding becoming an increasing challenge, Applestone reached out to those who might be interested in financing her company. One of which was long-time friend Bre Pettis, former CEO of MakerBot. In May 2017, Pettis acquired Other Machine and the company was rebranded as Bantam Tools.
What inspired you to follow an engineering path?
Back in middle school, I started going to some free science camps in Arkansas. Pretty quickly, I recognised that science and engineering and knowing how to build stuff could be my ticket to anywhere that I wanted to go.
What has been one of the biggest challenges in getting to where you are?
Starting out with no network was hard. But going to MIT was the best thing I could have done to connect myself with people and the community I would eventually work in.
When I got to San Francisco, I also had never asked anyone for money. I was used to working in a lab and so getting thrown into pitching to venture capitalists was super challenging.
Specifically though, having big ideas and being bold enough to say them out loud was something that I had to overcome. It sounds simple, but I was held back when I held back on the magnitude of my enthusiasm and conviction.
What is your view on how we entice young girls and women into STEM?
Get more women into positions of power and leadership in STEM-related organisations. If there aren’t a lot of women around, you need women in leadership positions. If you hire them, the rest of your organisation will be more balanced. The same is true for getting people of colour into STEM.
Last year, Other Machine became Bantam Tools and Bre Pettis came on board.
How has that changed what you’re offering?
I would say that after having Bre Pettis acquire the company, we have more focus than ever. Our products deliver professional reliability and precision at an affordable price and the Bantam Tools Desktop PCB Milling Machine is so easy to use that it allows professional electrical engineers to punch above their weight class and get prototypes out quickly.
Since the acquisition, it was a great time to take a step back and really think about what we did well and how we were doing it.
Bantam Tools stands apart as being a company that is 50% run by women. What in your opinion does diversity do for the culture of a company?
Diversity benefits your bottom line. It makes your products better and makes your teams run more effectively. This is true for absolutely every company and product and we are no different. So whether or not I’d like to see more diversity in tech and engineering (I do), those are the companies that will be the most valuable.
As for us, I’d like to focus more on other categories of diversity as we move into the future and the team doubles in size.
What tech is particularly exciting you at the moment?
Lately I’m getting back into materials science. So the stuff that excites me is a bit esoteric, but I think we are going to see some innovations in energy storage and device manufacturing in the next couple of years that is going to blow entire industries wide open. It should be an exciting five to10 years.
What does Bantam Tools have up its sleeve in the future and any news on European distribution?
We are now turning our sights to the workflow of other professional engineers and thinking about what tools would accelerate their rate of prototyping things other than PCBs. We also just announced a partnership with Digi-key, which is now serving all of our international markets. Europe is open for business!
If you were hosting a dinner party who would you invite and why?
Yolandi Visser (South African singer, songwriter and actress); John Waters (American cult film director); Joaquin Phoenix (American actor); Regina Dugan (American businesswoman); and all of my friends, but it would have to be a dance party. These four people are really intense and I admire them for it.