(formerly Carbon3D) co-founder and CEO Joe DeSimone’s
observations are just, then innovations like those formed in his chemistry lab at the University of North Carolina and funded with more than $220 million in Silicon Valley venture capital could be fewer and further between in North Carolina.
Before a crowd of hundreds gathered for his presentation and conversation with investor Steve Nelson
at the annual CED Tech Venture Conference
in Raleigh, DeSimone expressed concern over lost momentum in a state that always felt like “its future was still in front of us.”
“It sort of doesn’t feel that way sometimes right now,” DeSimone told the crowd. “We need to get back to that and be the beacon of driving things forward aggressively and in a very inclusive way.”
HB2 is largely responsible, he said (to a round of applause). Besides the damage already done, it could prevent his company from investing in an East Coast operation of 300-400 workers in the state—Google Ventures, which initiated a boycott on investments in North Carolina after the bill was signed, is a key Carbon investor. The man’s opinion and actions matter beyond that. Despite his long list of accolades, global and national in nature, he’s building a startup considered one of the most transformative and impactful for modern-day industry.
Using light and a chemical process to craft liquid resin into three-dimensional objects, his technology allows the speed, customization and affordability promised but so far not-yet-fulfilled by the 3D printing industry.
While 3D printing generates $3 billion to $4 billion in revenue each year, Carbon plans to tackle the monstrous manufacturing industry ($400 billion in the U.S. alone). The three-year-old startup, which debuted just 18 months ago at the annual TED conference
, is working with companies like Ford, Johnson & Johnson, Microsoft, BMW, Delphi, along with UNC and Duke University, to make end products, not just prototypes like most existing 3D printers.
For a $40,000 subscription fee, the startup combines its Internet-connected “M1” machines with software updated in the cloud every five to six weeks to spew more than a million data points a day. A sort of “App Store” of resins allows manufacturers to make a variety of products in a variety of ways and materials using all that data.
Eventually, Carbon’s machines could be in factories around the world making anything from medical devices to auto parts to athletic footwear to dental implants.
“If we can scale appropriately and execute, we have an amazing opportunity to democratize manufacturing—to rethink how people make things,” DeSimone told the crowd. With its valuation already topping $1 billion, he believes he’s got a shot at building “a multi-ten billion company,” its roots in North Carolina, where DeSimone has called home since age 25 (he’s 52).
Carbon moved to Silicon Valley when it landed Sequoia Capital and other top funds as investors—DeSimone took a leave of absence from his lab and teaching responsibilities at UNC and NC State. The company needed access to the top tier of talent—among the 150 employees at the firm, 25 come from Tesla, including the vice president of engineering, he said. Others hail from Apple, Google and Paypal.
Admittedly, the Silicon Valley region has its own challenges. Criticism over escalating housing prices, a disparity of wealth and lack of diversity and inclusion within the most innovative companies in the world has caused some backlash.
Fellow speaker, venture capitalist Freada Kapor Klein
), is among the global leaders calling for that to change.
But according to DeSimone, Silicon Valley is still the perfect place for Carbon’s mix of hardware, software and molecular science: “Silicon Valley feels like what Florence must have felt like during the Renaissance. It has incredible scale and focus. (…)The resources are staggering and the visions are staggering and we play to that.”
Still, DeSimone is loyal to North Carolina—the strength of its universities and the collaboration between them, along with close proximity to industrial centers like Greensboro and Wilmington (which he said ought to be like San Diego), are draws.
His commitment to the state means he won’t pass it over when it comes time to expand east—that is unless the notorious “bathroom bill”, now riled in federal lawsuits, stays intact.
Carbon will eventually build factories all over the world, DeSimone said, though specifically helping to bring manufacturing back to the U.S. A new and strategic round of funding, announced today, will start those plans. And according to DeSimone at the conference, one of those better be in North Carolina.
“Nobody is a bigger fan of RTP than me,” DeSimone said. “The opportunities here are really fantastic.”