November 24, 2020

Atlanta nanomaterial startup Carbice raises $15M to transform global electronics manufacturing

Atlanta nano-material startup Carbice Corp. has raised $15 million to continue an expansion into markets and industries that got a boost by a trip to France in 2018.

Spun off from research by the founders conducted at Georgia Tech and beyond, Carbice makes a black tape composed of recycled aluminum and arrayed carbon nanotubes that keeps electronic devices cool by dissipating heat.

Downing Ventures, a division of London’s Downing LLP, led the Series A round with participation from Toyota AI Ventures.

Early on in its development, just after raising $1.5 million, the company could see the applications for its technology within smartphones and other electronics, which were getting smaller and more powerful seemingly by the day.

But a City of Atlanta-backed startup exchange to the sister city of Toulouse, France, home to aerospace giant Airbus SA, helped founder Baratunde Cola test out a hunch that Carbice could go beyond  investors are now calling “terrestrial applications.”

Satellites, he thought, would constitute a key market for a material he envisioned being ubiquitous in the future of electronics manufacturing.

“We got validation that the problem we’re solving in the space market is the right problem. It helped us secure a strategic focus on space and satellites,” Mr. Cola told Global Atlanta in a 2017 interview, calling the French city the “Aerospace Silicon Valley” that he’d never heard of. 

Since then, Carbice Carbon has been tested for more than a year in space, providing yet more proof that it is helping reduce cost while improving performance, partly thanks its flexibility. It’s formatted in adhesive squares that can be easily applied and reworked, a benefit over the industry-standard thermal glues, according to the company.

Downing Ventures partner and Head of Ventures Warren Rogers said the material promises to remove device design constraints and enhance performance by solving thermal management issues in a new way. Dr. Cola has previously said that much of a computer’s processing power is drained away in the form of heat, for instance, but fans are noisy and inefficient.

“Carbice Carbon is nothing short of revolutionary and will completely disrupt thermal management in every industry,” Mr. Rogers said in his effusive statement on the company’s transformative potential.

Carbice Carbon is nothing short of revolutionary and will completely disrupt thermal management in every industry.

Warren Rogers

Dr. Cola is a leading scholar on carbon nanotubes, having researched them since 1999, first at Vanderbilt University, where he also played fullback on the football team, then at Purdue University, where he earned his doctorate in heat transfer and nano-materials. The company’s intellectual property is protected by international patents, and the U.S. Army, Air Force and National Science Foundation have provided grants and commissioning projects that have helped improve manufacturing. 

A professor at Georgia Tech since 2009, Dr. Cola has always seen himself as an entrepreneur. To him, the company’s growth not as an overnight win but the result of a 20-year personal journey. 

From the early days, the Detroit-born son of a Ford employee has built Carbice’s processes with mass manufacturing in view — a move that helped attract the Downing investment, the venture group said in its announcement: 

He de-risked Carbice by building the company for scalability from day one, establishing the IP for manufacturing rather than just the product itself, which is the pitfall of many materials start-ups.

Even while still custom-cutting the material for customers back in 2017, Dr. Cola envisioned building a massive factory in Georgia and shipping rolls of the tape to makers of set-top boxes, computers, phones and yes, satellites.

“If we want to be a global force, I think we’ll be cost competitive globally right here in Atlanta,” he said at the time.

The Downing investment will be used to scale up manufacturing, make key leadership hires and expand sales. 

The company announced that former IBM vice president of semiconductor sales Hal Laskey would join Carbice as chief operating officer, while Bianca Cefalo, former thermal products lead at Airbus who is now a space educator and rocket scientist in London, will become director of international business development.

Dr. Cola could not be reached immediately for comment.