3D-printing unicorn Carbon is bringing in a new high-powered CEO as it goes beyond the startup stage. Ellen Kullman, former CEO of DuPont, replaces cofounder Joe DeSimone, effective immediately, the company announced today. DeSimone, who had been in the CEO role since launching Carbon in 2013, becomes executive chairman of the board with the change.
DeSimone, 55, a former professor at the University of North Carolina, told Forbes that as he built out the Redwood City, California, company’s leadership team over the past 18 months, he’d begun to think about his own role at the expanding business—and who might take on the top operating spot. “[Investor] Bobby Long is the people person on the board. He and I talk seven times a week, and it was through that conversation that the idea emerged,” DeSimone said. “Bobby has a lot of ideas, often harebrained and not possible. And we pulled it off.”
Kullman, 63, a Carbon board member since 2016, had retired from DuPont in 2015 after beating back a challenge from activist investor Nelson Peltz. A Delaware native and resident of the East Coast, she’s now planning to move to the West Coast immediately after the Thanksgiving holiday. “I always told people if I was going to go back in an operating role it would have to be a compelling company,” she told Forbes. “That’s Carbon for me. . . . It’s compelling to me. I wouldn’t take on this position if it wasn’t.”
Investors have been pouring cash into 3D-printing companies at a time when industrial applications are booming. Carbon is the highest valued of these venture-backed startups. It has raised $680 million, at a valuation of $2.4 billion, from investors that include Sequoia Capital, GV, Madrone Capital Partners and Baillie Gifford. Its Series E round in June is likely to be its last private investment before going public.
Kullman’s background as a savvy operator of a large, publicly traded company for six years should prove helpful to Carbon whenever it chooses to do that expected IPO. She began her career at General Electric and joined DuPont in 1988 in its medical imaging business. She also sits on the boards of directors at United Technologies, Amgen, Goldman Sachs and Dell and is a former director of General Motors. She was the first woman to lead DuPont in its 212-year history, and was on Forbes’ list of most powerful women during her tenure there.
She said she’ll begin by digging into the company’s operations as she works on both the company’s 2020 plan and its longer-term one. “I’ll put my own personality on it, and Joe will still be here and be an evangelist for the company,” she said.
Carbon, whose 3D-printing technology is called Digital Light Synthesis, is best known for its partnership with Adidas, for whom it makes midsoles of elastomer that feature a lightweight, latticework design that is only possible with 3D-printing technology. It also has deals with Riddell on custom 3D-printed football helmets; Dentsply Serona for aligners and dentures (of FDA-cleared materials); and Johnson & Johnson, which makes 3D-printed bioabsorbable polymers that could be used in surgery.
All told, Carbon, which operates on a subscription model, has an installed base approaching 1,000 printers. Its larger printers have an annual contract value (including resin) of some $200,000, while the smaller ones have a contract value of $70,000, DeSimone told Forbes in June. Forbes estimates that Carbon will surpass $100 million in revenue this year.
Today, 3D printing is a tiny piece of the $13 trillion global manufacturing market. But DeSimone and other 3D-printing entrepreneurs, such as Desktop Metal’s Ric Fulop and Formlabs’ Maxim Lobovsky, are working to increase its traction based on the technology’s ability to create parts that are lighter and more efficient than could be produced with other technologies.
Those parts could become more sustainable, as well. Carbon has been working to develop more recyclable and compostable materials that could be 3D-printed. In October, it introduced a new resin, known as RPU 130, developed in partnership with DuPont Tate & Lyle Bio Products that contains nearly 30% of a plant-based material called Susterra propanediol that was developed by DuPont during Kullman’s tenure there. With Kullman’s experience in chemical supply chains, DeSimone said, “we’re going to make a huge difference.”
Author: Amy Feldman