There may be big money in small science, but not as much as you might think. Mike Holman from Lux Research – a leading nanotech research and advisory firm – gave an interesting presentation this afternoon about the barriers to nanotechnology commercialization. He talked of a ‘nanotechnology value chain’ rather than a specific market, and of the discipline being a ‘broad enabling technology’ that allows for incremental improvements to existing products, rather than generating completely new ones.
The total amount of nanotech funding is increasing, but it was interesting to note that whereas corporate cash is more often focused on electronics and information technology, that from the government is targetted towards healthcare and the life sciences. It seems, therefore, that the barriers to commercialization are not necessarily technological or economic ones, but also cultural and organizational – the latter two obstacles highlighted with amusing quotes about nanotechnology ‘just being a fad’.
As the session continued, however, it became clear (at least to this member of the audience), that there is another problem. When the worlds of science and business collide the words of science and business do not. What is a ‘dollar investment gap’? I think an ‘IP conduit’ featured in a few Star Trek episodes. I understand ‘cash flow’, but what do ‘development platform’ and ‘integration services’ really mean? As for ‘roadmapping’, I checked the OED, so don’t try and tell me it’s a real word. Come to think of it though, as chemists, we’re just as bad. If we start mumbling about ‘nucleophiles’ or ‘electrophiles’, non-chemists wouldn’t have a clue. Worse still, polite conversations rapidly become uncomfortable should we happen to mention ‘cleavage reactions’ or ‘backside attack’!
Nonetheless, nanotechnology is beginning to have a commercial impact and so it doesn’t really matter if we’re not all speaking the same language. After all, the money will do the talking.
Stuart Cantrill (Associate Editor, Nature Nanotechnology)