Steve Jurvetson on Nanotech

Is Nanotech is the next great technology wave, the next trillion-dollar industry? AlwaysOn has an interview of Jurvetson by Bill Reichert:

Reichert: Is nanotech a revolution or is it an evolution? Is it a cover story for 2006?

Jurvetson: To me, it feels like a revolution, like moving from analog to digital music, or moving from trial-and-error medicine to information-driven medicine. But hopefully, it won’t be a popular press headline in 2006: “Nanotech Hits the Store Shelves, Go Out and Buy It in Your Cereal Box!”

I think instead it will be something that pervades and innovates society in ways you never imagined. You’ll see molecular electronics, solar cells will become affordable, displays will be set in plastic, and sheet-sized televisions will become cost-effective. Memory chips will be non-volatile and less expensive.

Will that be exciting? It probably won’t be on the front page of the Wall Street Journal, or at least not in the local paper. Will it be in the trade rags? Absolutely. Will Intel and all the chip companies be very interested in how this develops and what impact this has on embedded memories? Again, absolutely. So I think this is going to be an interesting headline in the ’03 to ’05 time frame for respective sub-sectors of the industry, but not for the popular press.

Reichert: Who’s going to lead the way in nano?

Jurvetson: Every single one of the 18 companies we’ve invested in so far in this space has been a university or government lab spin-off; and even if they’re a university spin-off, at some point they relied on government funding.

The reason for the government funding is clear. Companies in nanotech start with large equipment. You don’t have an electron microscope sitting in a garage. That’s not a place where you would be able to do this primary work. And so these startups usually leverage government research and luckily, there’s a lot of it. Nanotech was one of the areas that got a budget increase over what was requested. It’s second only to the space race now in terms of federal funding for fundamental science, over $600 million a year. Even so, the United States is not ahead in terms of federal funding. It’s big worldwide.

There’s also an immense amount of research in large corporations. NEC, HP, IBM, and GE in particular come to mind. They’re doing great work, but are perhaps the exception. What we see more often, for example in the semiconductor domain, are acquisitions. Some entrant gets to a certain scale, perhaps a bit short of their ultimate potential, and then gets acquired. In fact, that’s what happened with one of our molecular memory companies, which was acquired by one of the largest memory chip companies. So some of the large corporations are already watching the field; acquiring companies, investing in companies.

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.