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Interview with Kos Galatsis, Carbonics

Story by Benjamin F. Kuo

 

In the startup world, one of the most difficult journeys to market is by companies who are taking basic scientific advances and technologies originally developed at universities, and taking them all the way to use in the commercial world. One of the companies on that journey is Los Angeles-based Carbonics (www.carbonics.com), which is taking technology developed in the labs of USC and UCLA, and bringing it to use in the wireless semiconductor market. The company's CEO, Kos Galatsis, spoke to us a few years ago at the very beginning of their journey. The company just announced its first product, so we thought it would be interesting to follow up with Kos on his progress bringing the company's technology to market.

Remind our readers, for those who aren't familiar with your company, what your products are all about?

Kos Galatsis: The semiconductor revolution was once all about computers, but it's now all about smartphones. At CES, you heard the term from Qualcomm called mission critical applications--things we can't mess up--and they're all now wireless. Carbonics is focusing on wireless technology, using new semiconductors that bring us into the 5G era. Right now, we're used to 3G and 4G on our smartphones; the next step is 5G, which means we will be able to transmit wireless, 4K resolution video over our telephone networks and through to our smartphones. To do that, we need high performance electronics. Not only that, we all grind our teeth when our battery goes low, so we have to do that in a low power, efficient manner, which does not chew up all that battery capacity. We think we are a company that will help ring in the 5G era, with high efficiency and high performance electronics.

So explain where you are now with the taking your technology to market?

Kos Galatsis: When we last talked, we had just gotten the company going and started to employ our team. Now, we are launching our first product, to bring market awareness of our technology, which is Carbon on Silicon. As you probably know, the backbone of the electronics industry, and of smartphones, are semiconductors made of Silicon, and in some cases made of Gallium Arsenide. Those key materials have been used for many years. We are, as a company, prototyping Carbon on Silicon, working with many large corporations, which unfortunately I can't name. During our past two years, we created our first product, which are Carbon on Silicon wafers. Those will be supplied to big companies, to research and development labs, and university folks, to get them working with our technology, which we think will change the landscape. We have a very simple product, a wafer that people can purchase from us, and make their own electronics and gadgets.

Semiconductor advances are infamous for costing millions of dollars and requiring very significant investment in infrastructure. How did a startup like yours go from that research to a product without millions and millions invested in semiconductor infrastructure?

Kos Galatsis: A lot of startups funded these days are software companies, and they do not have to do real hardware like they used to ten years ago. I think we're one of the black sheep, and a pretty unique play in the startup world because of that. We have had to innovate and invent that hardware. A lot of the challenge is in human resources that understands that technology, however, we live in Southern California, which has some of the best universities in the country in that area. Our employees come from Caltech, UC Irvine, UC Santa Barbara, and we've employed people as far away as the University of Michigan. So those resources have been fantastic. You also asked about our labs, and we have been fortunate to be part of the UCLA Incubator, which you may know houses the California Nanosystems Institute. The Institute has a lot of nanotechnology equipment, fabrication equipment, and labs, as well as Ph.D. level technicians there to help. We have been able to leverage that resources, because we have one of the most advanced nanotechnology facilities in the world on our doorstep. That's why we've been able to come where we are as a startup company.

So this would have been a lot more difficult if those labs weren't available to you as a company in the incubator?

Kos Galatsis: The company would not have happened. We would not have been fundable, if we were just a startup out in the middle of America. We needed to be close to an advanced, nanotechnology facility that could provide the fabrication technology for semiconductors. They are very few and far between, partially because the demand is not out there. Even if you look at semiconductor foundries, the number of semiconductor companies in the U.S. is dwindling, and consolidating, as companies are being bought up. So doing that R&D is challenging. We've been lucky because Southern California still remains a hotbed in the semiconductor industry.

What's the biggest challenge you've had to overcome in getting here?

Kos Galatsis: The biggest challenge in hardware, is hardware. It's just the nature of the beast, honestly. It's a lot of hard work, it takes time, lots of errors have to be made, because that's how we learn. Lots of goals are scored, and we go one step back and two steps forward. It's a painstaking process when you are innovating semiconductor hardware, yet it's very rewarding once you have achieved your objective. We've achieved nearly all of our objective. The next challenge is getting technology awareness in the marketplace. That's why we're launching our product, Zebra, to get the technology out to as many people as possible around the world. That's very important for our survival, because if we don't, no one will know about the technology. So the biggest challenge we're now looking at it getting as much market traction as possible.

What lesson would you share with other startup founders who have come from the basic science and research area, in getting to market successfully?

Kos Galatsis: The biggest lesson I've learned, and have been told numerous times by people much more experience in this field, and in venture capital and startups, is to engage your customers as soon as possible. Engage with those customers, start validation and feasibility studies early, so you can understand their needs, wants, and specifications as soon as possible.

Finally, what's our next big goal?

Kos Galatsis: This our our first product, and I like to think that's we're starting by crawling, then walking, then running. We're at the crawling stage at this launch. Early next year, our Viper product will be an amplifier product, a transistor we will sell on a wafer, so that people can play with circuits and amplifiers. After that, we have another product, the Stingray, in our pipeline, for 2018-2019, which we'd be looking at putting into the market for the military, consumer electronics, and others, for power amplifiers, low noise amplifiers, RF switches and front end modules, to help power the 5G revolution in 2019-20.

Thanks, and good luck!