Cruel to be Kind in Nanotech Investment Advice

Sometimes you have to be cruel to be kind. In Tim Harper’s latest whitepaper “How To Make Money From Emerging Technologies” there is much scathing criticism of the nanotech-investing endeavor thus far (much of it highly deserved) that borders and sometimes exceeds the line of cruelty. But the ultimate aim is to correct the bad practices of the past and bring in some better ones by way of helpful suggestions for nanotech investment.

The position piece timed for the holidays offers friendly advice for various investing groups, namely: governments, businesses and the investment community. The recurring themes are not that new, and follow along the lines of ideas such as common sense should be a guiding principle rather than hype, investment in companies that do not produce a higher value item beyond a nanomaterial will eventually crash and be prepared for the long haul when investing in an emerging technology.

Harper, the Enfant Terrible of Nanotech, really makes his best points (or at least the most entertaining ones) in identifying the myriad problems of nanotech investment to date. Such as in the government investment advice section in which he offers a way to create more spin-outs:

"Create more spin-outs. Easy to say, but how much time and effort is wasted by governments in supporting small technology-based businesses when very few of them actually exist. The usual bunch of professional project managers who haven’t moved technology forward one iota in ten years will suck up any government cash. A system of small, no strings attached grants for technology-based start-ups would encourage university spin-outs and support them through that difficult first year of product development. We are talking about tens of thousands of pounds, not millions."

But my favorite piece of advice in the same government investment section offers some sage advice on tech transfer:

"Fire 90% of university tech transfer people and replace them with people who understand how small businesses and science based innovation actually works. We have spent months negotiating with some institutions that issue unreasonable demands and detailed ten-year revenue projections when current economic conditions can change in ten minutes."

When there are so many entrenched institutions, such as tech transfer offices and the investment hype machine, that are determined to save their little piece of the pie even if it means they have to kill their host to do it, perhaps it takes some free advice to right the nanotech-investment ship.

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Nanoclast

IEEE Spectrum’s nanotechnology blog, featuring news and analysis about the development, applications, and future of science and technology at the nanoscale.

 
Editor
Dexter Johnson
Madrid, Spain
 
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Rachel Courtland
Associate Editor, IEEE Spectrum
New York, NY
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