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Darrell Brookstein

Investment executive

 

Nano-Savvy Journalism

7 things every reporter should know before
writing about nanotechnology and
7 questions to ask every “nano” company

Nathan Tinker, PhD
Senior Director, The Nanotech Company
with Darrell Brookstein, Managing Director


 

INTRODUCTION


Nanotechnology has become a growth industry—at least in journalism. In 2004, no fewer than 12,343 stories were printed about nanotechnology (that’s about 10 times the number of companies actually doing nanotech), up from 7,631 in 2003. And in the first two months of 2005 alone nanotechnology has been referenced more than 2,600 times in the popular press.

Too often, these stories provide little information helpful for the general reader in understanding nanotechnology or, worse yet, confuse reality and fiction to the point that readers can’t tell the difference between Michael Crichton’s evil, utterly fictional “nano-swarms” in Prey and the very real and harmless nanoparticles we breathe every day.

In order to provide journalists a baseline for reporting about nanotechnology and the companies pursuing it, The Nanotech Company offers the following primer: 7 things every reporter should know before writing a nanotech story and 7 questions to ask every “nanotech” company.


7 THINGS EVERY REPORTER SHOULD KNOW BEFORE WRITING A NANOTECHNOLOGY STORY


1. Just because it’s tiny doesn’t mean it’s nano. While the prefix “nano” in nanotechnology refers to one-billionth of a meter (about the length of 10 hydrogen atoms lined up), not everything that small qualifies as nanotechnology. The National Nanotechnology Initiative says that to qualify as “nanotechnology” research or a product must involve all three of the following:


• Research and technology development at the atomic, molecular or macromolecular levels, in the length scale of approximately 1 - 100 nanometer range;


• Creating and using structures, devices and systems that have novel properties and functions because of their small and/or intermediate size;


• Ability to control or manipulate on the atomic scale.
A key component here is the phrase “devices and systems that have novel properties and functions because of their small and/or intermediate size.” The “novel properties and functions” are derived from “quantum physics” effects that sometimes occur at the nanoscale, that are very different from the physical forces and properties we experience in our daily lives, and they are what make nanotechnology different from other really small stuff like proteins and other molecules.

2. Nanoscience is not nanotechnology. Nanoscience is the study of phenomena and manipulation of materials at atomic, molecular and macromolecular scales, where properties differ significantly from those at a larger scale. Nanotechnologies are the design, characterization, production and application of structures, devices and systems by controlling shape and size at nanometer scale.

The distinction is particularly important from a business perspective because, of the thousands of nanoscience research projects underway at academic institutions, only a very small percentage of these will evolve into technologies that exit the lab and make it to the technology phase, much less to a product, and fewer still to a company startup phase. An even smaller percentage of startups will have their technology adopted by an industry. Many different technologies may solve the same problem, but only one or two will rise to the top of the heap.

3. Nanotechnology and MEMS are not the same. MEMS, or micro-electro-mechanical systems (the tiny motors, machines and tools you see occasionally pictured in Scientific American or elsewhere), are often confused with nanotech, even though MEMS devices, while still microscopically small, are thousands of times larger than nano devices. MEMS devices may incorporate nanotechnology, but they are themselves not nano.

4. There are no such things as “nanobots”. It seems that nearly every general audience story about nanotechnology begins with some reference to “nanobots coursing through our bloodstreams” or apocalyptic “grey goo” scenarios, a tendency that blurs the distinctions between serious science and science fiction and confuses readers. Nanobots and grey goo and self-replicating nano-machines and unicorns and leprechauns are figments of the imagination, period.

5. Just because it sounds complex doesn’t mean it is. Some companies and researchers will make their technology seem overly complex in order to elicit a greater “gee whiz” factor. In most cases, nanotechnology is some mixture or intersection of chemistry, physics, materials science, electrical engineering, and biology. Ask an unbiased academic scientist (such as one of our experts at The Nanotech Company) to break it down for you. Real nanoscience and technology have sound, reliable foundations that conform to known physical laws.

6. Nano is responsible technology. A significant amount of attention has been paid to the potential health and environmental risks posed by nanotechnology, with the underlying implication that both academic and corporate research ignores safety and ethics in pursuit of profit. The truth is that tens of thousands of scientists and engineers, and billions of dollars are being dedicated to understanding and mitigating any potential hazards created by nanotechnologies. Is this to say that nanotech is completely benign? Of course not. Every technology has its risks, but the nanotechnology industry is aware of the potential risks of nanotech and works diligently to address them.

We encounter potential hazards every day— kitchen knives, cleaning chemicals, gasoline, germy children—but develop products and strategies to lessen any danger (after all, I keep bleach in the house, but that doesn’t mean I drink it).

7. Nanotechnology means business. While the “gee whiz” of nanotech garners the most attention (Cures for cancer! Space elevators!), the reality is that nanotechnology means business, creating new jobs, economic growth, and potential wealth. If history is a guide, some nanotech companies will succeed, but most will fail.

Nonetheless, nanotechnology is already making its mark in the industrial landscape. Nanotechnology is used in a wide array of electronics, magnetics and optoelectronics, biomedical devices and pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, energy, catalysts and materials, which already represent billions of dollars in revenue. Areas producing the greatest revenue include such mundane products as sports equipment, chemical-mechanical polishers, magnetic recording tapes, sunscreens, automotive catalyst supports, biolabeling, electroconductive coatings, protective coatings and optical fibers.

Globally, more than $8 billion year is being spent each year on nanotechnology research and development by federal, state and local governments, Fortune 500 companies, and universities. With nary a nanobot in sight.


7 THINGS EVERY REPORTER SHOULD ASK EVERY “NANOTECHNOLOGY” COMPANY


The current attention to nanotechnology has spawned a growing number of companies claiming nanotech as a core competency. Some are “nano” in name only. These companies have no particular technology or application that utilizes nanotechnology, but use “nano” in their name in order to attract attention and investment—beware of these pretenders.

In order to separate the pretenders from the contenders, we suggest reporters ask a few basic questions to ascertain whether a company is indeed nano:

1. Where’s the nano? Show me the nano. Challenge any company claiming to be a nano company to explain how its technology or product is derived from nanotechnology, keeping in mind that, just because something is tiny (even nanoscale) doesn’t necessarily make it nanotech. If unsure, ask an unbiased expert.

2. Is nanotechnology required for your technology to work? Could microtechnology be substituted instead? Sometimes going nano makes a product more complicated, complex or expensive than it needs to be. For end users, what matters most are not whether something is “nano” or “micro” but whether it provides a real solution to an actual problem. Size or “type” of technology hardly ever matters, and “solutions in search of a problem” aren’t the basis of ongoing businesses, however, they’re sometimes the basis of stock promotion.

3. Does your technology provide an answer to a specific industrial dilemma, or is it a solution in search of a problem? Too often, researchers launch companies with technologies that either do not fulfill a particular industrial need or are too complex or expensive to be viable. If a company has not thought out what specific industrial problem its technology solves, it’s probably little more than a science project. Ask whether a company has actually talked to potential end users in order to understand what they need.

4. Who are your competitors/competing technologies? Why is your technology a better solution? Everyone has competitors. If a company says they don’t, they need a reality check. And remember, a better mousetrap is not necessarily a winner.

5. Are other researchers/companies following your lead or are you a lone ranger? If no one else is interested in a particular line of research or development, take a second look. There might be an underlying problem with the technology or it might simply be out of line with industrial needs. Hot markets attract hot competition.

6. What’s your market strategy? If a company says they plan to surpass GE in market share in medical imaging within five years (for example), take it with a BIG grain of salt – no, take it with a pound of salt. The incumbent market leaders and end users (the GEs, Boeings, Intels, BASFs and other industrial giants) will continue to control the majority of consumer and business markets, and their product roadmaps are unlikely to be interrupted in the short term by emerging technologies, regardless of how revolutionary they are. The strategy and marketing plan have to be grounded in the real world and significant financial and personnel resources have to be devoted to marketing and sales to win in the marketplace.

7. Have you been approached by other (especially larger) companies about licensing/acquiring your technology? A good measure of whether a technology has legs is whether it is in demand from potential licensees or acquirers. This suggests a potential market for the technology, as well as potential revenue streams for the company.

CONCLUSION


Like any emerging industrial technology, nanotech is an uneven amalgamation of science, finance, marketing, personalities and luck. At The Nanotech Company, our expert team of scientists, financiers and business people are available to help you understand the scientific, investment and business intricacies of this exciting technology. For more information and insight, contact us.


The company publishes the dynamic, new book on nanotech investing (the first ever on the subject) Nanotech Fortunes: Make Yours in the Boom; Winning Strategies available for $27.95 plus $4 S&H by check to The Nanotech Company, LLC, 3525 Del Mar Heights, #345 San Diego, CA 92130. Credit card charges will be available April 22nd on www.nanotechnology.com. 2005 Japan Prize winner and eminent bionanoscientist, Erkki Ruoslahti, MD, PhD, said “Darrell’s general business acumen is beyond question, but I have also come to admire his impressive understanding of scientific and technical underpinnings of nanotechnology.”

The Nanotech Company, LLC is the leading, independent advisory firm that assists emerging nanotech companies achieve their corporate development goals by accessing its significant scientific, corporate development, and financial advisory resources.

Managing Director, Darrell Brookstein, a 30 year financial executive, and Erkki Ruoslahti, MD, PhD, a Distinguished Professor and bionanoscientist, have assembled an eminent team of award winning nanoscientists, professional services specialists, and corporate/financial development experts to enhance and accelerate the intelligent growth of private and public nanotech companies.

The Nanotech Company, LLC
3525 Del Mar Heights Road #345
San Diego, CA 92130
info@nanotechnology.com
www.nanotechnology.com

Attn: Darrell Brookstein
1-888-NANOTEK


Copyright © 2004 Darrell Brookstein

 

Darrell Brookstein
Managing Director

The Nanotech Company, LLC
www.nanotechnology.com
3525 Del Mar Heights Road
San Diego, CA 92130
USA
+ 858 794 0848

email : info@nanotechnology.com

 

The contents of this page, including the views expressed above, are the responsibility of the author. They do not represent the views or policies of Nano Tsunami Dot Com, except where explicitly stated.

Darrell Brookstein

 


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