If someone told you that there was an “industry” that you probably had never imagined existed and it was worth $7 billion and would grow at CAGR of nearly 31% over the next four years to nearly $21 billion, you would be pretty excited if you were an investor and quite sure that big bad “industry” was doing something unsavory if you were of the NGO ilk.
The pity of this scenario is that the numbers above border on pure fiction dreamt up with the most tenuous of rationales. And yet they manage to get investors to fork over money faster than they can say “due diligence” and spawn a rash of business plans that pin their market analysis on these bloated figures; and they also manage to scare people into believing that the “industry” is some huge unchecked threat.
I am, of course, speaking about nanotechnology and the figures I have quoted above are from a few years back and represent some research firm’s estimate (I use this term loosely) on nanotechnology’s value in the food industry. These figures amazingly are still be quoted in business articles today so the fantasy gets perpetuated year after year.
Perhaps even more worrisome than unduly scaring people or stirring investors into a frothy frenzy is that investors should be encouraged to invest in nanotechnology and there should be efforts to minimize any risks of nanotechnology both for consumers and for the workers manufacturing nano-enabled products.
Instead we get the backlash. Investors feel burned because nanotech was not what was sold to them and people who should be making rationale arguments for continued research into determining the risk of nanomaterials instead scream about moratoriums and stopping “the nanotechnology industry.”
If in 2006 there was a report that told you that nanotechnology in the food industry was worth $7 billion or another report that gave you the rather deflating news that nanotechnology in that year only accounted for $410 million of the trillion-dollar food industry, which would you cling to whether you be a start-up, investor or anti-nanotech crusader?
Human nature being what it is, hype manages to better tick the boxes of fear and greed than does rational argument but sometimes people learn their lesson.
Dexter Johnson is a contributing editor at IEEE Spectrum, with a focus on nanotechnology.