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Think Big With a Nanotechnology Business

What you need to know about turning your technology idea into a nanotech business.

Good things come in small packages.

Really, really small packages. There's a lot happening in both the development of nanotechnology and in practical applications. Magnus Gittins, CEO of nanotech commercialization business Advance Nano-tech in New York City, looks at three main areas: displays, homeland security and medical devices. "The number of startup companies involved in nanotechnology is increasing rapidly," says Gittins. "In 2007, we'll get real products out there--exciting products, not just coatings or fabrics."

For some entrepreneurs, nanotech will be their business. But a wider pool of companies will want to use nanotechnology to improve their existing products. "The challenge [for] entrepreneurs with existing products is [asking], 'How does nanotechnology apply to what [I'm] doing, and does it create a tangible increase in performance?'" says Gittins.

Nanotech is already out there in the form of pants that won't stain and shirts that won't wrinkle, but that's just the tiny tip of what's to come. The National Science Foundation estimates that by 2015, the U.S. will command about 40 percent of the $1 trillion worldwide market for nanotech products and services. That's a big number for such a tiny technology.

Getting Started
Thinking of launching your own nanotechnology business? Try these tips:

  • Look to the labs. The first thing to understand about nanotechnology is that much of the groundwork it being done in university labs. Most nanotech businesses end up spinning off from these labs. Gittins refers to nanotechnology as "the dawn of the next industrial revolution." It will be increasingly important for entrepreneurs to know about and leverage nanotech discoveries. To that end, keep an eye on what the research labs are doing.
  • Find the business connection. Universities may be where the research happens, but they don't usually specialize in commercialization. There's a need for smart businesspeople to help make that leap. "Nanotechnology is driving a change in the way universities deal with businesses," says Gittins. You don't necessarily have to be a nanotech researcher to bring nanotech advances to the consumer and business markets.
  • Leverage new discoveries. Nanotech is moving right along, and new discoveries are popping up on a regular basis. Keep an eye on the nanotech scene to see if any of the new breakthroughs are right for your business or products.
  • Uncover the compelling reasons. Technology for technology's sake usually isn't a good idea. And that includes nanotech. Just because you can apply a nanotech coating to your existing product, doesn't necessarily mean you should. Look for the compelling reasons for why it truly makes your product better or sets you apart from the competition.
  • Keep up on the latest and greatest. There are lots of nanotech resources online that can help keep you in touch with the latest breakthroughs, advances and commercial opportunities. Nanotechnology.com is one place to visit for news. Nano.gov is home to the National Nanotechnology Initiative. If a basic primer is more your speed, Gittins recommends the recently released book Nanotechnology for Dummies.
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