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Home > Interviews > Mark Brandt - September 2005

Mark Brandt of the Nano-Network - A Profile

September 5th, 2005

NN: Please talk about the Nano-Network, its goals and mission.

The Nano-Network was formed by scientists, entrepreneurs and financiers to improve and expand the nanotechnology research and commercialization activities in Northeast Ohio and throughout the nation. The group is headquarted in Cleveland, Ohio and has more than 200 active members interested and involved in the nanotechnology sector.

Our goal is to connect people using nanotechnology to improve their business and the industry. The group primarily focuses on business networking, advocacy for federal funding, and provides a link to capital investments for entrepreneurs to develop their ideas.

In 2005 and beyond, the Nano-Network is committed to bringing together scientists, business professionals, and academic researchers to forward the national and regional discussion on nanotechnology.

In October, the Nano-Network will host NANO Week, a five day exploration and celebration of how nanotechnology is changing our world. NANO Week first debuted in 2004 and this year it's back with a new theme. We will introduce the first-ever Nano-App Summit, the anchor event for NANO Week, with focus on nanotechnology applications in the Aerospace, Automotive and Consumer Products industries. Attendees will learn how discoveries in the lab turn into real products and applications to be commercialized and manufactured. This event promises to be the most applications focused nanotechnology conference of the year.

NN: Why did you form the group?

I felt Clevelanders involved in nanotechnology needed to get better connected with each other. The region also needed a greater appreciation of the role nanotechnology applications play in the traditional industries that dominate our economy, such as medicine, materials and manufacturing. I'm also a Cleveland native and believe nanotechnology is the stepping stone to our future. That's why I wanted to help bring this technology to my hometown.

At the same time I founded the Nano-Network, I saw a unique opportunity for a Midwest fund with more capabilities than typical coastal venture funds. The Maple Fund, a venture fund focused on emerging technologies, was born from my vision. Nanotechnology seemed to be a very promising and exciting field and I believed creating the Nano-Network and the Maple Fund at the same time would compliment each other. (I was very busy forming both groups and would not recommend this task to others!) I knew forming these organizations would provide me with a better understanding of the emerging nanotechnology sector and help me to better recognize a good business plan.

NN: What is your personal background and interest in the field of nanotechnology?

I have experience with corporate business development and can recognize emerging growth trends. As a graduate of Cornell University I witnessed their commitment to nanotechnology research. I could see nanotechnology on the horizon as being a "disruptive technology" that would take us places previously unknown. It was my natural inclination to get involved in the nanotech space and work toward commercializing nano-enabled products.

In fact, the Maple Fund recently invested in Nanofluidics, a spin-off from Cornell University working with nanoscale gene sequencing techniques.

NN: You have gathered together a diverse group of people to form the Nano-Network. What are your strengths?

Northeast Ohio is home to world-class innovators and technologies. From the scientists working at research labs of our Fortune 500 companies and the clinicians at the Cleveland Clinic and Case to the entrepreneur working in the garage or over at one of our many technology incubators, Northeast Ohio continues its long history of using technology to create economic growth.

We have specific regional technology strengths that can be exploited and grown including Nanotechnology, Polymers and Advanced Materials, Instruments and Controls, Biotechnology, and Fuel Cells.

One of our biggest strengths is not just what is resident here, but the fact we have connections all over the world to get us the best and brightest minds. I personally believe you are only as good as who you can get to help you solve an issue - we're lucky to have some of the worlds leading experts at our disposal from NASA Glenn, Case or the Cleveland Clinic. Many of us also have very strong national networks which also helps us bring resources to region.

The truth is Northeast Ohio is an untapped resource full of possibilities and most people are unaware of the high caliber of individuals and technologies that stem from this region.

NN: In 2005, the focus of your educational and networking sessions is on nanotechnology applications in aerospace, automotive and consumer products. What do you hope will come of this year's event, and how will it move your agenda forward?

We really want to differentiate the Nano-App Summit from just another nanotech conference. I'm telling you up front, this entire event is focused on applications. There has been a significant amount of venture capital and federal funding put into nanotechnology research over the years and now we will be able to see and hear about the fruits of our labor.

Nanotech is being used by all the companies presenting at this year's conference. It will be amazing to hear speakers from Boeing, Ford, General Motors and Procter and Gamble discuss how they are currently incorporating nanotechnology into their products and business plans.

If we are able to help startups launch their products to tier one buyers, help existing suppliers better understand the value of nanoscale technologies, assist universities to focus their research on unmet needs, help startups find partners, and get new suppliers for attending companies-then this conference will be a smashing success.

NN: How is Nano Week 2005 important on the local and national levels?

NANO Week 2004 was a complete success because we organized a world-class, high-quality program that drew regional and national attention to our efforts to promote nanotechnology.

For example, last year Case hosted the first-ever $75,000 International NanoBusiness Idea Competition and the winner recently received $6.2 million from tier one funding sources in Boston. That success was covered by Small Times Magazine. And the Cleveland Clinic NanoMedicine Summit also made headlines in the New York Times. So call me crazy, but I think we're already having a national impact.

This year we want to generate even more momentum for nanotechnology through a variety of events at NANO Week. The week includes: the Nano-App Summit, Nanotechnology Manufacturers' Forum, MEMS Economic Summit, and the Emerging Technology Forum focused on liquid crystals and nano-polymers in advanced displays.

Also new this year, Case has introduced a $75,000 award for a NanoBusiness Idea contest winner from Northeast Ohio or an individual willing to relocate to the area. We did this to encourage our local researchers and entrepreneurs to enter the business competition. I believe contests get scientists to step up and take things to the next level by focusing on applications and what it takes to get from the lab to the marketplace.

My belief is that if we organize world class programs, the local region will respond. We have a number of nanotech startups here in this region in a variety of application areas. We have world-class nanotechnology research in nanopolymers, advanced displays and medical devices. We have one of the top materials economies in the U.S. All of this points toward Northeast Ohio becoming one of the "hotbeds" for nanotechnology over the next few years, and its effects on our technology economy here will be huge.

NN: What is your vision for the commercialization of nanotech-enabled products in Cleveland and NE Ohio?

My dream is to see a nano applications focus develop in Cleveland and have leading researchers come to the area to understand how to enter the marketplace. I believe that all innovation comes from either a market need or a science capability. The challenge is getting the two to meet in the middle. It takes funding, engineering, and market knowledge. With the Nano-Network, Case and the Cleveland Clinic leading the way here locally - and we now partner with Cornell University, The Ohio State University, Purdue University, University of Pittsburgh and many others - we can bring name research here and apply it to our local technology industries.

We have identified more than ten companies locally, both large and small, using nanotechnology in their product development and solutions to for their customers needs. We want to forge closer connections among those companies, suppliers, startups and university researchers to keep them focused on getting new products and applications to market. I see the process in motion and it's just fascinating

NN: In general, what are your hopes and concerns regarding a nanotech-enabled future?

Let's be honest with ourselves. We are innovators in America - we come up with a great idea, we engineer it really well and then it gets commoditized in some other country like India for software or China for manufacturing. America is, more than anything else, a center for innovation. That being the case, we need to lead not follow. This happens by really holding scientists up as the Rock Stars.

I want to see nanotechnology drive innovation in all sectors of our economy and those that figure out how to innovate, gain the most customers, and market share will win!

Cleveland with its manufacturing roots, entrepreneurial history and deep roots in medicine can play a major part in driving this next nano revolution. Nanotechnology is capable of things that no science has been able to accomplish before in our history. Every region of this country should be asking what they can do to bring nanotechnology to the innovation culture of their local economy.

When we look back in 20 years, we will see the areas that invested in and fostered nanotech. Sustainability, energy, genomics, computing, personalized medicine, heath and nutrition all get a big boost from nanotech research. Those who structure their economic development around this will be happy later. -I do know that if we keep exporting jobs, and just sit back and complain about it - we loose. We must keep moving forward.

The Nano-Network is a hub for the awareness, development and commercialization of nanotechnology.

The Nano-Network was formed by scientists, entrepreneurs and financiers to improve and expand the nanotechnology research and commercialization activities and capacities in Northeast Ohio and throughout the nation.

The Nano-Network hosts regular educational and networking sessions. In October 2005, the Nano-Network will host Nano Week 2005, which will feature a series of programs highlighting nanotechnology research, applications and products. In 2004, the focus of Nano Week was Nano-Medicine, for 2005, the focus is on real nanotechnology applications in aerospace, automotive and consumer products.

Nano Week will conclude with the $150,000 International and North Coast Nanotechnology Business Idea Competition. Twenty-five semi-finalists will invited to Case Western Reserve University to present their business ideas. Learn about the winning teams from 2004.

For a complete list of 2005 NANO-Week activities, please visit

For more information on the Nano-App Summit, visit

For more information on the Maple Fund, visit

Mark Brandt

Mark Brandt
Founder and Chair, the Nano-Network
Managing Partner, The Maple Fund

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