Dr. Joseph DeSimone is Founder & CEO of Carbon. He was also Chancellor’s Eminent Professor of Chemistry at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and William R. Kenan, Jr. Distinguished Professor of Chemical Engineering at North Carolina State University and of Chemistry at UNC. He has published over 350 scientific articles and over 200 issued patents with over 200 more patents pending. He recently gave a great talk at the mHub Fireside Chat for industry disruptors and we reached out to him while he was in Chicago. With a variety of entrepreneurial and technology experience, be sure to tune in and hear what he has to say about Carbon as a company and the future of additive manufacturing.
You have had a long career within academia. Could you explain how you are in this current state of life based on your time in academia?
Hmmmm. How am I in this current state of life? I could answer this several ways, but let me try it this way: I feel like I have been training my whole life for this current opportunity to serve. I am a polymer guy; We are transforming the polymer industry in a fundamental way. We are living at the intersection of hardware, software and molecular sciences; I’m a firm believer in the role of convergence to drive innovation. We have a distinctive team and culture in the backdrop of Silicon Valley’s bro-culture; I have been leading with the realization that i) we learn the most from those we have the least in common with and ii) that diversity is a fundamental tenet of innovation. I have been teaching entrepreneurship for 10 years at UNC; for the first time I am on the field with one of my companies. I hope this answers your question!
When was your first entrepreneurial venture?
Micell Technologies in the 1990s.
What is the most important part of entrepreneurship?
Respect. Teamwork. Excellence.
Can you give some background on how Carbon started as a company?
It started as an experiment in a garage with a former postdoc of mine at UNC. However his “idea” to make 3D printers cheaper than everyone else was more of an activity than an idea. But that triggered an idea to make a 3D printer that could operate continuously versus layer-by-layer. The rest is history!
What was the initial value proposition of Carbon and how has that changed or evolved to its current state?
The initial value proposition was to print fast and to make parts that had the properties to be final parts. Once we cracked the code to do that, it was all about driving that capability to take 3D printing from a prototyping only technology to a transformative technology to change the way polymeric parts are designed, engineered, made and delivered globally.
What is the ceiling for the additive manufacturing sector?
The biggest challenge is that up until now, nobody has been able to deliver on the promise of 3D printing. We are limited by preconceived notions of the potential of the technology to manufacture real parts, at scale.
Explain how Carbon is applying differentiation as its main vertical for success within the additive manufacturing sector. What makes it different?
We are the world’s leading digital manufacturing platform and with DLS technology, we’re making it possible for companies to break free from the constraints of traditional polymer manufacturing methods to make what’s next now at speeds and volumes never before possible. We are finally fulfilling on the promise of 3D printing. For the first time, companies can deliver real products at any volume. DLS makes it possible to form isotropic parts from liquid resin, with superior surface finish and unmatched performance suitable for end use– across many verticals from automotive, medical, dental, consumer applications, etc. Our modern software tools also make it possible to re-imagine products by creating designs that harness complex geometries and stand up to the most stringent impact and strength requirements. Best of all, we can do all of this in unprecedented timelines.
Explain the importance of your Digital Light Synthesis Technology.
It is the most important piece of our technology! Digital Light Synthesis technology is the process by which we fuse light and oxygen to rapidly produce parts from a pool of resin. Powered by CLIP technology, DLS was THE critical breakthrough to making it possible to manufacture parts made out of polymeric materials, quickly and at scale.
In terms the success of Carbon there seems to be a great value on the team surrounding the organization. How important was your network in building the company from the start?
It was certainly important in terms of getting it off the ground and making some of our earliest hires! We have assembled an extraordinarily talented team of individuals at Carbon with diverse backgrounds, experience and skills. We’ve attracted talent from some of Silicon Valley’s top companies like Tesla, Apple, Yahoo and Google. When you hire great people, those people in turn attract great talent so it pays dividends to invest in hiring the best from the very beginning. People like Craig Carlson, our Chief Technology Officer, who was one of the original team members at Tesla responsible for the Roadster and Model S.
What sectors of additive manufacturing does Carbon believe can be disrupted in the future that are not currently?
Carbon is focused on reinventing the ways polymeric parts or designed, engineered, manufactured, and delivered, towards a digital and sustainable future. The auto industry is one example where I think digital manufacturing can have a profound impact. For example, digital manufacturing will enable more fuel efficient transportation (high strength, lightweight materials). Today, cars are made out of some 300 different polymeric materials, making recycling effectively impossible. I think cars could be made from 8 different materials. And it is enlightened approaches like this that could really drive a circular, cradle-to-grave and back again, physical-digital economy. Another example is the medical device and drug delivery industry. We now have bio-absorbable resins that will enable new concepts for the local delivery of drugs and new approaches for medical devices.
What inspired you and others at Carbon to initiate a collaboration with Adidas? Take us through the creativity applied towards this particular strategic partnership.
Before we started there was a lot of expressed interest by the various running shoe companies to use 3D printing. We partnered with Adidas because they were the most knowledgeable of the various 3D printing technologies, they were the most intentional to use 3D to lead a disruption to their business, and they had a great culture of “calling all creators”!
Could you give some parting advice to people within the entrepreneurial community on how to approach their startups and different initiatives?
It’s not for the faint of heart. It sounds like a romantic journey from afar. But it’s really hard, all encompassing work. But there is something special about convincing others and showing others that a different, better future is possible.
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