Taking the NanoPulse -- Nano-nomics 101: What Drives Growth in 2009?

There's a bright spot in the economy. It's called innovation.

Money gets tight. Markets get nervous. Businesses freeze up. In an economy like the one we're facing, it's tempting to hunker down and wait for the trouble to blow over. Tempting... but wrong. Trouble doesn't blow over, it gets pushed out of the way. And the biggest push you can muster? Ideas. Innovation is the ultimate game changer. Innovation makes a product better, so markets open up. Innovation makes good products cost less, last longer, do more... so wallets open up.

So if you're thinking about how your company can make a go of 2009, let's talk about nano-nomics. Nanotechnology is the headwaters of innovation. From consumer products to biotech, from energy to transportation, from food to electronics, nanotechnology can drive the progress that drives an economy. In fact, the trend is already there. We just have to ride it.

Let's start with some statistics. A new study by Lux Research shows that the shift in focus from R&D to commercialization has already been made in the marketplace. There was $147 billion worth of nanotech-enabled products sold in 2007. To be sure, it's global corporations setting the pace. More than 90% of those interviewed have a nanotechnology strategy. In my mind, the more important detail is that almost 2/3 of them reported that the strategy is decentralized.

We've moved from a company nano-czar to knowledge of nanotechnology's potential being widespread throughout an organization. Why is that so important? Because nanotechnology has moved out of the ivory tower and into the mainstream. he folks who make glassware are thinking about nanocoatings that make their products last longer. The engine designers are looking at nano-lubricants that reduce friction and save energy. The marketing team for DVD companies is thinking about nanocomposites that help them put more information on a disc. Smart people who know their consumers and the market needs are developing products people want to buy now. Right now. They're using nanotechnology to create opportunities that defy the economy. Or, more accurately, they're using nanotechnology as the rejuvenating fuel in the economy's engine.

How are these companies getting the job done? Many have substantial internal resources at work. Others are leaning on outside resources. In fact, of the respondents to the Lux survey, 100% of them include universities, start-ups or other external partners in their work. From coast to coast, better ideas are getting noticed, getting funded and getting on the fast track to commercialization.

Here's one of my favorites. Researchers from the University of Akron, University of Dayton, the Georgia Institute of Technology and the Air Force Research Lab have created "gecko glue" using carbon nanotubes. We've all seen the images of gecko lizards scurrying up a wall. An array of branched hairs on the creature's feet is nature's design to allow the gecko to stick like glue one second, then pull up and scurry off the next. Now these researchers have found a way to align tangles of carbon nanotubes to mimic those hairs -- and, in fact, better the gecko's performance by 10X. Imagine the value of that product for connecting electronic devices, for helping astronauts scale the walls of the International Space Station, or for simply keeping a workman's tools stuck close at hand on the workshop wall. Don't you think the market would pay for that kind of advance? I do.

Uncle Sam understands nano-nomics, too. Beyond the bailouts there have to be breakthroughs -- and nanotechnology is at the core of that innovation. I firmly believe the new administration and the 111th Congress are committed to nanotechnology as a driver of growth and recovery. The National Nanotechnology Initiative budget report for fiscal 2009 shows $1.5 billion in funding for activities in 25 Federal agencies from NASA to the Departments of Defense, Transportation and Agriculture and reauthorization work has already begun. There also remains strong support for the Research Competitiveness Act, which will improve R&D tax credits for companies and create an investment tax credit to help start-ups gain access to capital.

What's your company's plan for making 2009 a profitable year? The key is innovation. It's simple nano-nomics.

Scott E. Rickert is chief executive of Nanofilm, Ltd., located in Valley View, Ohio.

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