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Alan B. Shalleck
March 24, 2006
"Nothing happens until something is sold!" My first R & D boss said those words to me decades ago and he was right. If there are no economic or societal outcomes from a business, in a practical sense, nothing has really happened and the endeavor isn't worth very much. You have to push a product out the door to create value. Let's apply the phrase to nanotechnology: "Nothing in nanotechnology happens until what is created in nanoscience is beneficially sold as nanotechnology!"
Too few U.S. nanotechnology executives respect that mantra. They have "nothing" (except large negative cash flow) because "nothing" they have done is being sold. Although after five years of large institutional and other investment some industrial and consumer products are being announced, they are coming to market far too slowly. Most nanotech executives (who still are mostly scientists or technically based … not marketing trained … CEO's) are not exhibiting a sense of urgency about the marketplace. Many appear to be diddling around waiting for the next VC-led round of diluting financing or, if cash rich from a previous financing, seem to be taking their sweet time getting even a dash one model product into the field. This is the least frenetic major domestic technical movement I have experienced in my lifetime. It may also be the most important. The contrast is hard to understand.
The lack of visible commercial impetus is retarding the domestic nanotech industry, or its appearance, to the non-nano world. Investors, bankers, and the public at large tend to believe that nothing "large" is happening in our "small" world. (That's not true of nanoscience, where knowledge itself is happening and new information has value). In this column, however, I'm only concerned with nanotechnology ... the practical application of nanoscience to society. It also seems that other countries (like Korea, Japan, Taiwan and selected European countries) have spawned nanotech companies where managements are racing to put nanobased products "out-the-door" as quickly as possible. The contrast is stark.
There may, however, be a change occurring. What simply may be needed to encourage further increases in domestic economic momentum and private investment may just be complete visibility of the real "nano - happenings" (= value) in the domestic nanomarket, and a sense of what "happenings" are on the doorstep ready to be shipped. Is there more than meets the skeptic's eye?
Until now, there was no collective assembly of what was really happening (my definition … see above) so that a sense of forward and accelerating progress could be gleaned. The recently published list of 212 so-called commercial nanotech "consumer" products (by the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars called The Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies) brought home to me my old boss's dictum. On the one hand, nanotech was beginning to be commercially visible to Mom and Dad via some of those listed products. Things "Nano" were happening. On the other hand, many of those products were conceptually and economically trivial … only small but significant improvements over what already existed without a nanotech component.
On second review however, the initial nanotech consumer product list, as an aggregation, was long over due. With only 212 products the list was terribly incomplete and almost amateurishly researched, but if one thought about those real nanotech products not on that list (and added introduction dates … a true measure of economic velocity change), one could, in a more representative list, get really interested in the real nanotech "happenings being sold." Then, if one added to that "consumer list" the "consumer/industrially oriented nanoproducts" that are about to be introduced, one could get truly excited and develop a sense of growing momentum. Extrapolated further, we may in the near term have reached a strategic inflection point (SIP)* in our nanotech industry in our drive to ubiquitousness.
What's omitted from the initial list? Only the most significant success story of modern nanotechnology. Everyone misses it. I start with it. "Inkjet Printing!" It's the prototypical glamour story of our nascent industry. The Inkjet Printing industry is nanotechnology's poster child. Nanotech and MEMS based (wouldn't have occurred without the two disciplines); a multibillion dollar "profitable" nano-business created virtually from scratch; consumer and industrial; a nanotech product restructuring an entire segment of the economy; bringing new quality and lowest cost directly into everyone's home, worldwide huge markets, etc. It's got everything every nano-entrepreneur or investor ever dreamed of. I just checked. There isn't an "Inkjet Printer" on the Center's list.
Somewhere in the 2000+ plus domestic nanocompanies is the next "Inkjet" success. That's not hype. The model exists. And if GM is on the Center's list, where are the Toyota's, Honda's and Hummers, all of which contain structural panels made with nanoscale materials?
I could continue, but I need your help in completing this nanotechnology consumer visibility list. I would like to ask each of you to take ten minutes to review the "Wilson Center nanotechnology consumer product list" for completeness, here. If you know of a nanotechnology-enabled consumer end product, or one that uses nanoscale materials in its construction, that is not on the list, send a "heads-up" e-mail to the author of the study, David Rejeski, at email@example.com telling him, "Hi Dave, you missed this nanoproduct." Let's complete his job and get a representative list of all that is "commercially happening" in visible nanotechnology today (and in the near term future) to use, and to push us into "selling another nanoproduct" in the very near future. Let's get the nanotechnology industry's value rising at an accelerating rate in people's minds. Remember, "Nothing happens until something is sold!"
*I'll talk about the SIP in a later column
©Copyright 2006 NanoClarity LLC
Alan B. Shalleck is the President of NanoClarity LLC (www.nanoclarity.com).
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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