Sequoia Capital’s Goetz on Carbon3D, a North Carolina-Born “Unicorn”

Sequoia Capital’s Jim Goetz invested in the North Carolina-born 3D printing startup that would go on to become the venture capital firm’s latest “unicorn” after seeing the technology in action—demonstrated by the high school student who helped build the prototype printer.

Carbon3D’s technology can 3D print in minutes what takes hours with currently available technology. The company calls its process “continuous liquid interface production,” or CLIP, and the technology holds potential for automotive manufacturing, Hollywood special effects, and medical applications. But two years ago, CLIP was just an idea at a startup in Chapel Hill, NC. Alex Ermoshkin, the company’s chief technology officer and co-founder, built the first CLIP printer with his son Nikita, then a 16-year-old Chapel Hill High student. The device piqued the attention of Sequoia, a Silicon Valley venture capital firm whose track record of investments in startups that topped valuations of $1 billion includes Stripe, Airbnb, and Dropbox. When Carbon3D got the opportunity to pitch to Sequoia, it was the younger Ermoshkin—one of the patent holders on the technology and a co-author on a published scientific article about the 3D printing process—who demoed the device to Sequoia partner Goetz.

Goetz invested in Carbon3D, which now operates from Redwood City, CA. In August, Google Ventures led a $100 million Series C round that pushed Carbon3D’s valuation into unicorn territory. On Wednesday, two years after the Sand Hill Road VC met the budding engineer from Chapel Hill High, Goetz was again face to face with Nikita Ermoshkin. This time it was on stage for a keynote at the Council for Entrepreneurial Development’s Tech Venture Conference in Raleigh, NC. There he spoke with visible admiration for the ingenuity of the younger Ermoshkin, whose handiwork introduced Sequoia to new possibilities in technology.

“We weren’t thinking about 3D printing until we met all of you,” he said.

Goetz addressed a packed ballroom at the Raleigh Convention Center in a wide-ranging discussion that covered education, entrepreneurship, diversity in technology, and North Carolina’s position as a tech hub. He conceded that despite the high visibility achieved by many Sequoia portfolio companies, the firm has historically been media shy. Even on stage before an audience of 1,000 registered conference attendees, Goetz preferred to turn the spotlight on entrepreneurs.

Sequoia was the first and only investor in mobile messaging service WhatsApp, which was acquired by Facebook (NASDAQ: FB) last year in a deal valued at up to $19 billion. But rather than talking about the investment and the sale (the single largest exit of a venture backed company in history) Goetz shifted the discussion to … Next Page »

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Frank Vinluan is editor of Xconomy Raleigh-Durham, based in Research Triangle Park. You can reach him at fvinluan [at] xconomy.com Follow @frankvinluan

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