The demand for ever-powerful and faster electronic devices has led to the development of innovative smartphones, tablets, computers, and other products.
But those advancements have also brought focus to a constant challenge for device makers: heat and the need for electronics and their components to remain cool to meet durability and safety requirements.
It’s created an opportunity for Carbice Nanotechnologies, a startup founded in 2012 by Baratunde Cola, an associate professor at Georgia Tech’s George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering.
Cola, whose company is in the Advanced Technology Development Center’s ATDC Accelerate portfolio of startups, said heat management remains one of the biggest technological challenges and opportunities for his company.
“Some people are trying to figure out how to store it, some people are trying to figure out how to convert it to electricity,” Cola said. “We’re trying to figure out how to dissipate it. Carbice is at the center of all of that.”
The company, which holds three patents — two of those based on Georgia Tech research — is making the rounds to potential investors as it seeks to scale to the next level.
Cola recently spoke with ATDC to explain his vision:
Q. What are your plans in raising money? What are you looking for in an investor?
A. “We’re looking for investors who can help us calibrate where we are in the market. A seasoned person that brings a lot of value beyond the money in terms of connections and helping us scale up and deliver to these big customers. Carbice has all of the top 10 chip manufacturers in our customer pipeline and we have gotten to the point where were closing deals with some of those people and we really could have this exponential growth up to the 10s of millions of dollars in revenue very fast. We have a good team but we also understand that the right type of investor can bring so much value in helping us capitalize on that opportunity and accelerate further. So there’s space for us to bring in someone strategic like that, someone who can help with getting us to that next level of capital expenditures. We also want someone to help us with the Series A raise. We’re a materials company. We make a high-value product, but our core value pre-revenue is this IP that we have and carving out this market. And so we want someone who gets excited about that and who likes the idea of bringing nanotechnologies and nanomaterials to the market in a big way, to address one of the biggest technical challenges on the planet, which is managing heat.”
Q. Why did you choose Georgia Tech and ATDC?
A. “When you think about building into the future, I’m not interested in who is the Silicon Valley of today, but where are the opportunities for the future. To me, there’s no better place than the Southeast. Part of nanotechnology’s struggles have been the difficulty with translating a lot of the great science from the science labs into engineered products and there’s no place that trains more engineers and better engineers at a bachelor’s level than Georgia tech. That’s an endless supply of talent. Georgia Tech also has one of the largest and most magnificent nanotechnology centers in the country and has resources that have allowed Carbice to — through agreements — use its facilities to bring the products to customers. We deliver product to customers on time, and often ahead of time, based on our ability to use Tech facilities at cost. That’s a huge asset that I don’t see anywhere else. You think about Atlanta, you think about Georgia Tech, you think about manufacturing history here — these are the things that attract us, and Atlanta is a great place to live.”
Q. What led you to being an entrepreneur?
A. “I was a big time football guy and went to college to do engineering and play football, but I always knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur. I was introduced to nanotechnology as an undergrad and it blew me away. The possibilities were just amazing and I think it was validated by this massive global investment in nanomaterials and nanotechnology…I wanted to become an expert in nanotechnology because I thought there would be really great opportunities for people who really understood the technology but also had the business fire and acumen to go out and do something in the marketplace. When I started my PhD studies at Purdue University I started working on what was the superstar of nanomaterials, the carbon nanotube. The carbon nanotube was this new form of carbon discovered in 1991 and it was like the Superman of nanomaterials. It’s 10 times stronger than steel and 10 times smaller volume. It’s the best conductor of heat, best conductor of electricity and so I wanted to do something with it that combined my background as a mechanical engineer with interest and expertise in heat transfer and nanotechnology.”
Q. What brought you to Atlanta and a faculty position at Georgia Tech?
A. “I decided that going into academia was a good opportunity for me. I learned about ATDC, I learned about VentureLab and the entire ecosystem here for entrepreneurship and it was a match made in heaven for who I am as a person and what my goals were. To be at a top university for research and one of the top incubators of new technology businesses I came to Georgia Tech, and when I got here, I started to work the plan to address some the barriers that I saw to commercialization of carbon nanotube interface materials because the thing I learned in my research is that even though some of these early false starts didn’t work out like we planned, this problem of heat dissipation in electronics was never going away. It was really going to be the definitive problem for electronics in the 21st century and probably beyond. It’s changed the game in so many ways on how people design chips so I was able to raise a lot of money as a faculty member because this problem is such a big problem to address and you have millions of dollars with a team of collaborators from DARPA, the National Science Foundation to continue working on these carbon nanotube thermal interface materials and it was at the end of our DARPA program —after being one of the few teams that made it to phase three of that program — that we decided it was time to start a company. So I stepped out and founded Carbice Nanotechnologies and I began the hard work of building a business around the technologies that we had developed.”