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Bre Pettis’ 3D Printing Gamble Makes Good

When most of us want something, we pull out our wallet and buy it. Not Bre Pettis. He makes things, and he’s really, really good at it. From a young age, Pettis surrounded himself with how-to resources that fed his desire to make. Now, decades later, the things he makes give  the rest of us the power to make things of our own.

Pettis is co-founder and CEO of MakerBot Industries, a Brooklyn-based company leading the charge in the exploding industrying of 3D printing, but in 2006 he was a public school teacher with a lot of big ideas. A lifelong desire to empower others in their own creative ventures took hold, and Pettis traded the daily grind for a career built on taking risks.

Pettis became a fixture on the online DIY portal Make, where he taught readers how to create everything from a T-shirt cannon to miniature solar robots, but that was just the beginning. After spending some time at Web retailer Etsy, where people sell their artistic creations, he hosted a pilot show for the History Channel that didn’t pan out. It was a major setback, but where some would see failure, Pettis saw an opportunity to make something once again.

Three months later, Pettis and two friends started MakerBot Industries and introduced their first 3D printer prototype at the SXSW conference and festival in 2009. Showing off their robot’s 3D printing power by fabricating shot glasses from scratch, MakerBot soon ushered in the 3D printing movement and spawned a massive community of inventive individuals who share and iterate on each others’ creations. It was the ultimate realization of a life spent making things.

Today, MakerBot offers five top-of-the-line 3D printers that anyone can own, and Pettis’ amazing machines are used far and wide. You can find MakerBots everywhere, from high-tech companies like Lockheed Martin, who use them to show off prototypes to NASA, to Haiti, where MakerBot machines are used to create desperately needed medical supplies as soon as they are required. MakerBot’s machines are even being used to create robotic limbs for people who lost theirs.

E*TRADE and MakerBot are separate and unaffiliated companies and this article does not represent a recommendation by E*TRADE to buy any specific security.