NanoScience Exchange

Facilitating action between six key groups - start-ups, corporations, investors, universities, labs and government.


    Meeting of the NanoScience Exchange™ (NSE)

Monday, June 24th in Palo Alto.

Jim Hurd, founder of the NanoScience Exchange™, opened the meeting by welcoming the diverse and highly respected members of the invited audience. Jim said that the NSE has been formed for one express purpose - to foster great relationships between the leading voices of nanotechnology and two key influencer groups - government officials and the media. The focus is to encourage a lively Conversation - on key issues and between key influencers. The NSE encourages active disagreement from its participants so that expert voices, of varying opinions, come forward. Jim talked briefly about conversations he had had the previous week at NIST and with US Senators, Congressmen and their aides in Washington, DC. He also said that many influential people are often not aware of the companies that have real products and real revenues. When government officials hear these stories, they are quite impressed and say that these give them fodder to show how important nanotech is becoming when addressing future funding levels.

Ten speakers spoke for three minutes each, interspersed throughout the Conversation.

The first question that came up, as the discussion began, was, "What is a workable definition of nanotechnology?"
    - Ed Niehaus, of Freedom Technology Ventures, said he considered nanotechnology an ingredient, not an industry.
    - Jim Hurd said he believed that the word is more of an adjective which would be at the start of a phrase which would drill down into very specific niche, i.e. "nanotech defense space station metals". He also said that the NSE is going to focus primarily on building relationships, and secondarily on arbitrating content issues.
    - Stephen Nett, of Quantum Polymer, said that more important than "What is the Definition of Nanotech" is "Who Defines Nanotech" - that experts should stay in this conversation, and not leave it to media, who may not be knowledgeable, to shape public opinion.
    - Vic Kley of General Nanotechnology, Inc. said "Nanotechnology is the art and practice of measurement, modification and manipulation at a scale of a 100 billionths of a meter to the size of one atom or 0.1 billionths of a meter. It has been practiced, with published techniques, for over 100 years.
    - Ralph Merkle, of Zyvex and the Foresight Institute, said, "The most interesting definition of nanotechnology is the ability to inexpensively arrange atoms and molecules in most of the ways permitted by physical law. This should be achievable and offers vast opportunities and benefits. This perspective was adopted by Eric Drexler in "Engines of Creation."

The first speaker, Brock Hinzmann, of SRI Consulting Business Intelligence, handed out to the audience a three page summary which included diagrams that his group had designed for NIST on analysis of key nanotechnology issues. Brock talked about NIST's focus on three areas: nanotech, health care and information management. He also described the difference in function between ATP and NIST Labs, which was helpful to many attendees. ATP's function is to fund high risk projects which may have a dramatic impact on technology.

The second speaker, Bo Varga, founder of NanoSig, talked about the short-term and mid-term objectives of NanoSig, including their alliance with ASME and the Girvan Institute of Technology. The organization has focused, quite successfully, on the commercialization of nanotech - providing an framework where start-ups can access a variety of needed resources, including financing and management expertise. NanoSig is currently developing SIG's in NanoBio, Tools and Materials.

The next speaker, Ralph Merkle, talked about the definition of nanotech, as mentioned above. In addition, Ralph talked about the public perceptions of nanotech - that it is seen as having great possibilities. Increased public funding will be greatly improved if it has the support of the public - so how accurately these issues are reported by the media is quite important.

The next speaker, Ed Niehaus, of Freedom Technology Ventures and a renowned public relations expert, spoke about four key issues in successfully working with the media: - that the media has a very narrow bandwidth - what "sticks" in the mind of both the media and the reader is a relatively small amount. So don't try to say too much, because then none of it will be remembered. - make sure that when an organization says something - that they have earned the right to say it, so it holds some weight. - horizons on technology are more people specific than time specific. - Ed talked about, "The conversation IS the context." Meaning that the current conversation focuses on the natural skepticism that the media and the public have in the post-Internet, the post-telecom, post-tech bubble we are in currently.

Charles Ostman, of Institute for Global Futures, talked about how nanotechnology began to really hit the radar screens of venture capitalists, attorneys and business development consultants AFTER Bill Joy's highly controversial cover article in Wired Magazine, "The Future Does Not Need Us" in April of 2000. This reaction, both negative and positive, caused nanotech to enter the mainstream, from Charles' perspective. Ed Niehaus commented that he had talked with Ralph Merkle and Neil Jacobstein in the late 80's about a need for an enemy to nanotech - and perhaps Bill Joy's article brought this "enemy" to life. Charles said that at the one year reunion, after the original debate at Stanford on "The Future Does Not Need Us," was the first time he had seen a crowd that was predominantly investors, attorneys and business consultants, instead of the usual scientists and academics.

The next speaker was Scott Mize, from AngstroVision. Scott gave the audience an update on the Nanotechnology Opportunity Report (NOR) from CMP Cientifica, which he contributed to. He also talked about how the nanotech industry, in some ways, was an enabling technology, similar to the pervasive effect that the plastics industry had many years ago. Scott also talked briefly about the current focus of his company, AngstroVision - a tools company which enables one to see and measure in 3D on a nanoscale.

Dimitrios Papaioannou, a laser physicist who consults for Osprey Ventures, talked about nanotech being too subtle for the average person to easily grasp, and that we need to find ways to dramatize its effect - without overdoing/overhyping it.

The next speaker was Donnie Fowler, Vice President of TechNet. TechNet, based in Silicon Valley, Boston, Seattle and Texas, aims to be the bridge between technology and government officials. Donnie said that politicians are motivated by four forces: a-good ideas, b-major articles in the media, c-voter feedback to politicians, and d-campaign contributions. Donnie said that now is a good time to capture the imagination of politicians - as they are beginning to take notice of nanotech issues.

Barry Hutchison, Director of Media Relations for Draper Fisher Jurvetson, said that knowledge on nanotech on Capitol Hill is still not deep. Barry talked about how Newt Gingrich and former President Bill Clinton worked together to establish funding for the National Nanotech Initiative. Barry also described how he, Steve Jurvetson and Warren Packard, 18 months ago, had gone around to talk with the media to educate them on nanotech issues. This was quite helpful for the media when nanotech news came up since then.

Neil Jacobstein, Chairman of the Institute for Molecular Manufacturing, a 10-year-old nonprofit R&D group, talked about how important it is to distinguish between near term nanoscale science and engineering and the longer term molecular nanotechnology that includes atomically precise, 3D, molecular manufacturing. Neil said, “Molecular manufacturing will eventually have very positive economic and environmental consequences, but it also comes with risks that need to be managed proactively. The choice is not between government intervention and no government intervention - it is between enlightened and unenlightened government policies and programs. It will not work to marginalize the longer term aspects of molecular nanotechnology in the search for commercial credibility for near term opportunities. We need to take a balanced portfolio approach in order to build a reputation for honesty and integrity in dealing with these issues. That is why the work that Jim and NSE is doing is so important. Groups lobbying solely on the behalf of short term nanotech interests may not represent the longer term R&D and policy issues, and these are actually the most important areas for enlightened government involvement.”

Bill Reagon, of Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren's office, commented that the Congresswoman is quite interested in nanotech, and that having a spokesperson on nanotech issues from an organization like NSE, who keep in touch with officials on a regular basis, can be very valuable.

The next speaker, Stephen Nett of Quantum Polymer, spoke about the consequences if we do a poor job of educating people on nanotech issues. One important area is in patents, and whether the US patent examiners understand these issues well enough to make solid decisions. Jim Hurd mentioned he had heard that a number of universities and corporations are sitting on large patent portfolios in nanotech that could result in difficulties when revenues evolve and everyone comes out to fight with their patents in hand. Stephen also talked briefly about his company, Quantum Polymer - which has a proprietary technology which can self-organize filaments which conduct electricity from the nanometer to the micron scale with some precision and control.

Vic Kley, of General Nanotechnology, talked about the following areas of responsibility by the federal government: a- the development of standards which NIST has done, b- the government as a customer of nanotech products, and c- the patent arena, the evaluation and granting of US patents. In addition, what are the states in the US which are actively working to develop strong nanotech programs. Vic also talked about how his company has developed substantial revenues over the last few years, selling several of their $4 million machines to customers.

Charles Ostman, the next speaker, talked the importance of taking into consideration the political and lobbying organizations who may see nanotech innovation as a threat to their interests. He also talked about the importance of Gordon Moore's Second Law, as being more important currently than his First Law. Charles also said that the convergence of technologies in the next five years, in biotech and nanotech, may cause faster adoption cycles that we anticipate.

Sally Richards and Donna Compton spoke. Sally, the author of the book, FutureNet, published by Wiley, talked about developing good relationships and rapport with the press. Donna Compton, of High-Tech Public Relations, spoke and handed out an information pamphlet on how to have your story ready to go to maximize coverage by the press.

Marc Canabou, of Earlybird Ventures, talked about the importance of nanotech companies that are beginning to work with venture capitalists to focus on getting concrete feedback and participation from prospective customers to make the pipeline for products as tangible as possible. Marc also said that venture capitalists are pleased to see the dynamic management that is coming in to nanotechnology companies currently. He also spoke about the importance of developing reliable metrics about the nanotech industry and who are the buyers.

John Gale, of Taligo, suggested that participants of the NSE could find it valuable to talk with nanotech companies about their specific needs over the next two to three years which the NSE could be helpful with.

Participants look forward to getting together for the next meeting of the NanoScience Exchange™, which is planned to be held in early August.

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