Taking The NanoPulse -- Sizing Up Nanotechnology

May 7, 2007
Don't be too quick to say you're too small or too large to be changed by nanotechnology.

I've been traveling quite a bit this year, and I've had the opportunity to speak about, and on behalf of, the nanotechnology industry around the country -- to Congress and the Administration in Washington, D.C. in March, to companies and investors last week in New York at NanoBusiness 2007. I've met with leadership of the Woodrow Wilson Foundation and the Environmental Protection Agency about their research on environmental issues, and I've even to spoken to a roomful of Consumer Reports folks about nanotechnology products.

Through these experiences I've had the opportunity to look at developments in nanotechnology from a very broad perspective. I've seen the many facets of the development of nanotechnology in the U.S. Those facets include government support of nanotechnology growth; companies of all sizes involved in research and -- more important -- commercialization of nanotechnology products. I've seen clearly how private investment is seeing the bottom-line potential of nanotechnology. And I've been able to gain insight on the balance between environmental research versus consumer demand and interest in new nano-enabled products. It's clear to me that the economic landscape for nanotechnology is changing quickly -- and for the better.

Why am I so enthusiastic? In every interest group, there's now a clear shifting of nanotechnology out of the lab and into the mainstream. Big companies are nano-izing their products. They're buying technology or components from other companies and investing in their own development.

Midsize companies are going to be the next big growth area, now that the path has been blazed by the bigger companies with deeper pockets. Midsize companies aren't just "browsing" anymore. Their wait-and-see attitude has shifted. They're now looking for concrete ways to capitalize on nanotechnology. They're actively seeking reliable sources of materials and products ready for commercialization.

And what about small companies? They're still a big engine powering this machine. Many of the original start-ups have made the transition to a money-making midsize company, but more are always on the way. As is often the case, those start-ups come out of university research -- as did Nanofilm. These University incubators, in general, have been more favorably supported by government funding in recent years. I'm hopeful those investments will also transition into commercial endeavors, sooner rather than later.

I'm working with nanotechnology leaders who are discussing an even more revolutionary way to use government funds to more quickly build American expertise and continue to grow a vigorous nano-economy. On the table is a concept to match the funding given to university research 1-to-1 with dollars to companies commercializing nanotechnology.

A recent research survey conducted by the University of Massachusetts supports exploring this kind of approach. It found that most U.S. nanotechnology industry executives believe high-volume manufacturing of nano materials and products is the most important activity required for the U.S. to strengthen its nanotech capabilities. The focus on high volume manufacturing outpaced long-term research by a factor of more than two to one. Translation: America must go beyond amassing a vast knowledge base to transform ideas into commerce. That's the key to assuring that nanotechnology remains a robust, growing business enterprise and America retains its leading edge position in the world.

My suggestion? Invest in nano-izing! You will profit from it, and the Nation will, too. Remember, if you're not moving ahead, you're falling behind.

Scott E. Rickert is chief executive of Nanofilm, Ltd., located in Valley View, Ohio. His e-mail address is [email protected].

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