As the UK Trade and Investment office rolled out their success stories at the Nanoforum conference in London this week, among the many thoughts that occurred to me was the joke of the boy who cries out while riding his bike â''Hey, ma, look no hands.â'' And then shortly after, â''Look, Ma, no teeth.â''
In the case of quite a few of the presentations at the event, it went more like â''Look, I can make a nanomaterial,â'' which left me wanting to add the punch line, â''Yeah, but no business.â''
The event was designed to be a dog-and-pony show to promote nanotechnology entrepreneurship in the Kingdom. Somewhat of an irony since the UK government is about to motivate some of these companies to either leave the country or sell out early with its proposed capital gains tax increase from 8% to 18%, which I blogged on back in October.
It is a peculiar phenomenon with nanotechnology companies of developing a business around a technology that they have meticulously patented and then plan to license to anyone that could find a use for it. A patent and hopes of licenses seems to be the business plan of many of these companies.
This seems a risky proposition when one considers that there is more than one way to make a nanomaterial that will satisfy a particular application. If you make the product that could use such a nanomaterial, why pay a license fee, just make it yourself.
A notable exception to this trend was a presentation made by an Indian company at the event, I-Can Nano. Sure they could just make a nanomaterial, but they went ahead and made the product enabled by the material: paint. Pretty prosaic stuff in the context of exotic quantum dots, but itâ''s a product that has sales and revenues.
This must have had some at the event scratching their heads thinking, â''Why didnâ''t I think of that?â''
As far as the state of nanotechnology commercialization in the UK, which this event was intended to showcase, you have to give the companies credit. While the US has been investing over $1 billion a year in nanotechnology, and Japan nearly the same, the UK back in 2003 allocated Â£90 million ($185 million) over six years.
With such a paucity of government funding compared to the US, Germany or Japan, they have done much. But some improved business plans might be in order for these nanotechnology companies, not just in the UK but around the world.