I just read Neil Gordon’s piece over at Nanotechnology Now bemoaning the state of investment in and commercialization of nanotechnology for 2009 and for what appears to be another dismal 2010.
Mr. Gordon, who is currently the CEO of Early Warning Inc., has been a long-time cheerleader of the prospects of nanotechnology even helping to found the Canadian NanoBusiness Alliance back in 2001, which now appears to have suspended operations based on their former URL having become a placeholder. (The curious phenomenon of nano trade associations I discussed here).So when you’ve been urging on a set of disparate technologies to have an impact on equally disparate industries for the better part of a decade, I can understand the frustration that can develop and it is certainly evidenced in this piece. While Gordon makes a list, albeit a not particularly long one, of the nano-focused companies that closed up in 2009 (Nanogen, Evident Technologies, and NanoDynamics), we are beginning to see positive indications this year of how nanotechnology was expected to develop all along.
Big companies, like IBM, are beginning to get a handle on the science and fundamentals of working on the nanoscale and are now looking towards the engineering bit to start developing commercial applications. The signs are here, here and here that we are moving in the right direction.
But when you’ve been waiting 10 years and have pinned your hopes on a bunch of start-ups forming an “industry” the way it happened with the Internet, you’re bound not to see this as progress, perhaps just as further disappointment.
I certainly understand Gordon's impulse to see huge bonuses going to ne’er-do-well investment bankers as perverse while the sizes of those bonuses could have certainly kept a number of nanotech’s start-ups going for a while longer. But the question is, and one that will never be able to be answered definitively one way or another, even if all that bonus money had gone to the Nanogens and Nanodynamics of the world would it have led them to become successful and sustainable companies? Hard to say, but I think maybe not.
Last week, TNTLog responded to my previous blog “Nanotechnology Appears To Be in Retreat”. TNTLog rightly points out that some of nanotech’s declining fortunes is due to the global economic crisis, which Mr. Gordon cites as well, but adds that the writing was on the wall for many of these “nanotech” companies because of poor business models and an inability to see who their real competitors were, not just a matter of under capitalization and the global downturn.
It also argues that there is some room for optimism going forward based on the idea that there are companies out there that may not have “nano” in their name or can be easily identified as being involved in nanotechnology that in fact are being successful in engineering products with nanotechnology. I tend to agree.
Dexter Johnson is a contributing editor at IEEE Spectrum, with a focus on nanotechnology.