“Berlin Startups in the Spotlight” – Carbon Mobile
Publish Date: March 30th, 2023
We are thrilled to have had the opportunity to speak with Firas Khalifeh, Co-Founder & CEO/CTO of the Berlin Deep Tech startup Carbon Mobile, about Carbon Mobile’s mission to create new materials and processes that can help solve the global 50M tons a year e-waste problem, the company’s location in Berlin, and their plans to expand to the U.S.
Hi Firas, thank you so much for taking the time to answer a few questions for us. First, could you tell us a little about yourself, your unique life story, and what you are passionate about?
I’m an entrepreneur and an engineer. I was born in Damascus, Syria, and was the first in my family to study at a university and graduated from the top one in 2012.
I escaped Syria after having conflicting views with the current regime back in 2012, and In order to grow a successful deep-tech company, I had to migrate to a more developed country; I sought Asylum in Germany, and I spent the first year running the company from the refugee camp, a repurposed ex-military camp for the allies, while our team (European) was operating from Berlin.
During that time, I took this as an opportunity to grow. I started studying mechanical engineering and materials and in-depth study on how Electronics devices work from the ground up. During the time in the camp, there was no internet connection or even Wi-Fi hotspot, but I had to work with our team and our new partners and potential investors.
There was only one coffee shop outside the refugee camp in the middle of nowhere that had an internet connection to 4G; I would connect to it twice a day to check the latest at work and send all my pending emails. Working from my room was a tiny warehouse with bare minimum living conditions.
If there is something I mastered, it is grit, resilience, and pushing through any obstacle! This is what Carbon Mobile is made of! I am passionate about solving issues, seen or unseen, that impact climate and social aspects of our lives by enabling technologies and innovation to have a transformational impact.
How did the vision to found Carbon Mobile evolve?
It started as a combination of multidisciplinary skills in a different domain but also naivety; I mean, I didn’t know it would be that hard and that I had to deal not only with technology but also with scaling the business, dealing with partners, suppliers, retailers, fight for patents and many other things.
But the real why behind Carbon Mobile is that we were always inspired by space tech and other superior industries, and we know that all these industries use advanced materials. We wondered why we don’t see these materials in our day-to-day products like smartphones and other devices and how that will impact the planet.
It turned out that e-waste is the fastest-growing waste stream in the world, according to the UN, and I felt responsible for doing something about it!
Change comes from the supply, not from the demand. A protest won’t help, and gluing hands on the street won’t help. The only way to solve this is when the supply provides better seamless solutions and products that improve or keep the products we use daily.
Please explain Carbon Mobile’s novel approach to replacing plastic electronics with carbon to create sustainable, lighter, thinner, and stronger devices of the future.
Our approach to products is first to rethink how devices are designed and what materials are made of by applying the first principle thinking to reimagine products. We realized that advanced composites like Carbon Fiber are a potential solution to reduce plastics and metals in electronic devices!
However, we realized that some of the major brands and manufacturers were blocked from using this novel material for over a decade because it has major electrical and antenna compatibility issues.
Our mission was to solve this problem and unlock the potential of advanced composites in connected devices. Eventually, we invented and patented a technology called HyRECM, our tech trademark for our cutting-edge solution.
To prove that this is not just an R&D lab fancy solution, we created our brand, “Carbon Mobile” and product, “Carbon 1 MK II” smartphone. We received significant recognition from the media for being the world’s thinnest, lightest, and most sustainable smartphone. The technology and the product received two major industrial and design awards.
The product was a great showcase of our technology and made some major brands very curious and we started receiving interest from those brands, who are mostly based in the US and Asia. At the same time, we received attention from industry thought leaders, who also recognized the technology like Simon Lancaster, ex-apple material and system architecture, who joined us as a CTO and is currently leading our San Francisco office.
Where is Carbon Mobile located and can you give us some insights into your team?
Carbon Mobile is located in the heart of Berlin, with a prototyping and testing facility in Dongguan and a recent engineering and BD office in SF, CA. Our team combines young talents and industry experts from Apple, Motorola, Nokia, and other major names.
Why is Berlin your business location of choice?
Being Europe’s political and startup capital, Berlin is well-suited for us. With access to great talents, researchers, and investors, and is a vital hub for major events and gatherings as well as a strong state leadership that is thriving to position Berlin and Germany as the place to be for migrant founders to start new businesses or set up European offices in Berlin.
At the same time, Berlin has a strong multicultural community, including those from minority groups. It’s a place where you find art, music, and performances from all over the world.
What are your plans when it comes to expanding in the U.S.? What factors influence your location decisions in the U.S.?
Since our product launch in 2021, we have received great traction from major players and OEMs, and most of them are based in the US and specifically in California, where most of the tech hubs are for major companies and startups.
Through our participation in the climate tech German delegation to the bay area as part of the German Chamber of Commerce west coast, we were also exposed to the Silicon Valley startup ecosystem, which helped a lot to form our decision to have an office in 2023 in the bay area.
Can you recommend what type of partners are helpful in expanding to the U.S. or any other pertinent advice to Berlin companies exploring U.S. markets?
I would recommend Berlin-Partner, the Berlin Business Office, USA, and the German Chamber of Commerce, both East and West, as they were of great help to us and introduced us to the startup ecosystem, advisors, investors, and potential partners.
Is there any advice you can give to aspiring startups in Berlin? Any tips on what they shouldn’t miss when they embark on their journey?
Never stop hustling. Resilience and grit are critical to success. Allow yourself to dream big but remember to execute in small steps.