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Small World

Nanotechnology will soon mean big changes in the way you do business.

Rick Snyder, CEO of Ardesta, a holding firm in Ann Arbor, Michigan, has a mantra: "Smaller, faster, better, cheaper." He's talking about "small tech," a term that describes nanotechnology, microtechnology and micro-electromechanical systems (MEMS). Nanotechnology in particular has gotten a lot of coverage as big companies like Hewlett-Packard and Intel have begun to introduce nano into computing.

It's hard to pinpoint exactly what small tech is because it has so many wide-ranging applications. "I would call it more of a revolution than an evolution," says Snyder. Nanotechnology, for example, deals with matter at an atomic and molecular level--that is, with matter often described as being less than the width of a human hair in size. It's appearing in everything from stainproof coating for fabrics to scratch-resistant coating for eyeglasses to miniscule computer chip circuits from HP Labs.

Research funding for small tech is enormous. Ardesta is devoted to investing in and helping launch various small tech ventures with an ultimate goal of bringing actual products to market. Many businesses in this fledgling technological area are small entrepreneurial start-ups and spinoffs from research institutions. Life sciences and materials manufacturing are two industries that will really feel the early effects of the growing small tech market.

Eventually, though, small tech will touch just about everything. Synder calls it pervasive and transparent. Some applications are out already and operating in your business right under your nose. Microtech is built into inkjet cartridges and portable projectors. At SmallTimes.com, a clearinghouse for information on small technology, the section devoted to applications is an eye-opener: A recent visit to the site brought up articles on nanotech use in products such as tennis rackets and LCD monitors, among others.

There are a million microscopic reasons to get excited, but it's important to keep them all in perspective. Synder sees an accelerating growth curve over the next five years as small tech makes its way into real-life markets. But you shouldn't expect companies to shout "nano" or "MEMS" in their product advertising. The way you'll know small tech has touched your business is when Snyder's mantra comes into play: "Smaller, faster, better, cheaper."

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This article was originally published in the March 2003 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Small World.

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