Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The Nano Entrepreneur -- Part I

Thousands of today's best business opportunities fit on the point of a pin -- nanotechnology has given entrepreneurial minds the tools to solve problems and cure a world of pain with products that, even a decade ago, were beyond our capabilities to design, test and manufacture.

Doug Neal, managing director at the University of Michigan's Center for Entrepreneurship, said that the 'high rate of change occurring in the nanotechnology space and in broad industry applications creates unique challenges for entrepreneurs. Nanotechnology entrepreneurs need to be especially focused on both their own particular invention as well as monitoring the tremendous innovations happening around them."

In fact, many nano-entrepreneurs have already made -- and will continue to make -- a significant impact in three large areas: materials, data storage and green energy.

Part I – Nanotechnology and Materials

Nanotech has quite literally woven itself into the fabric of the marketplace. The textile and materials industry jumped on the nanowagon a number of years ago, creating products such as stain-resistant fabrics. Nano-Tex, one of the earliest spinoffs, is showing up in Brooks Brothers shirts, Nordstrom ties and Travelsmith sports jackets. Whereas normal fabric absorbs stains like grape juice, materials such as Nano-Tex have coatings with nano-engineered molecules that attach themselves to one another and then to a fabric, forming a nano shield against stains. And unlike like Scotch-Guard or traditional coatings, Nan-Tex doesn't change the texture of the fabric.

The applications of carbon nanotubes (CNTs) in biomedical applications are the stuff of what formerly was science fiction. With a large part of the human body consisting of carbon, materials constructed with CNTs are biocompatible, making it possible to develop nano detectors that identify tumors as small as 100 cells; nano-scale, programmable antibodies that find and destroy bacteria, viruses and cancers without damaging healthy tissue; anti-microbial bandages that help prevent infection; and antibacterial coatings on hospital walls and aircraft interiors that "clean" the air. Entrepreneurs such as those at Carbon Design Innovations, Inc. are marketing two new neural probes types with CNT tips.

The military got very interested, weaving pure carbon nanotubes into ultra-strong body and vehicle armor. In particular, they envisioned nano-clothing with microscopic wires woven into the fabric, able to transform uniforms into communication devices that track vital signs, and heat up or cool down as weather changes. A "smart uniform" will eventually monitor a soldier's position and steer him through a battlefield. Sensatex, based in Bethesda, Maryland, is the result of that innovative material.

New materials similar to ceramics are resistant to chemical attack, conduct electricity and heat, yet can act as a thermal barrier.

Many researchers and corporations have already developed CNT-based air and water filtration devices. Nano-materials will impart interactive functions to windows and walls and appliances – they’ll set architects free, giving them the tools to create homes that communicate in real-time with their owners.

Nanocomposites are transforming packaging. Companies are already incorporating nanocomposite plastics into consumer and industrial packaging thats lighter and stronger. And we now have packaging with a high IQ -- "smart packaging" can sense if FOOD has spoiled or undergone tampering.

Nano materials in the hands of entrepreneurs are becoming the building blocks of billion-dollar industries. So bigger isn't always better, unless you're talking about well formed, entrepreneurial ideas.

Next, "The Nano Entrepreneur – Part II, Nanotechnology and Data Storage."