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Emerging Technology Report #47: March 11, 2003

"nano tech 2003 + Future" conference in Tokyo: Nanotech Business Plan Contest

- Summary -

Global Emerging Technology Institute

The "nano tech 2003 + Future" (International Congress and Exhibition on Nanotechnology) was held from February 26-28, 2003 at Makuhari Messe in Chiba, Japan. The event was organized by the New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO), the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO), and the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST), and was also supported by Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI). In all, 26 organizations from 13 overseas countries supported the conference as 3,500 participants from 25 countries and regions were in attendance. The Congress was broken down into five sessions including a Special Session, a Nanotech Summit, the Technical Symposium, a Business Forum, and an Open Session. The 1st International Nanotech Business Plan contest was conducted as part of the Business Forum on February 27, the second day of the Congress.

The purpose of the contest was to encourage the development of creative business plans (especially by students) and to raise awareness of the general public about business opportunities relating to nanotechnology. Business plan abstracts were submitted from various countries. Mitsubishi Research Institute, the contest secretariat, screened the accepted abstracts and chose the ten finalists. These finalists made oral presentations to a panel of judges detailing their technology and business plans. The review panel was chaired by Prof. Hiroshi Iwai of Tokyo Institute of Technology. The other judges included Dr. Jun Komotori of NEDO, Mr. Conrad J. Masterson of Nanotechnology Foundation of Texas, Mr. Mutsunori Sano of Innovation Engine Inc., Prof. Takashi Yamane of Keio University, and Ms. Miwako Waga, Japan Managing Director of GETI. The review panel members scored each contender based on individual presentations and more detailed company information provided to the secretariat in advance. The judges were specifically asked to assess each contender on "Technology" (technological prowess), "Enterprise" (commercial feasibility), and "Idea" (uniqueness of technology and/or plan) points of view. The scores were aggregated to determine the final ranking.

The Grand Prize was given to Mr. Nathen Fox, president & CEO, Atomic-Scale Design Incorporated (ASD) of the US. ASD develops and licenses its materials formulation and fabrication processes to the semiconductor, aerospace & defense, medical implant, and energy storage industries. Quasam™ is a patent protected family of self-organized carbon-carbon nano-composite metamaterials. It has a combination of outstanding mechanical, chemical, electrical and thermal properties never before seen in a material, according to ASD. The initial product line focuses on low-k materials for inter-level dielectric (ILD) layers in semiconductors. Development of advanced low-k materials is indispensable for the semiconductor industry to continue enhancing LSI performance at the conventional rate, known widely as Moore's Law, beyond 2007. Competition to develop low-k materials has intensified, and ASD's competitors are large and well-capitalized companies. However, Mr. Fox stressed that ASD could provide an easily integrated process-stable long-term solution that would be competitive and extend at least until 2016.

The Gold Prize was awarded to Dr. Sang-il Park, president & CEO of PSIA Corp. of Korea. PSIA develops and commercializes scanning probe microscopes (SPM). PSIA Corp. was founded in 1997 as a strategic alliance with Park Scientific Instruments (PSI) of the US in order to market PSI products in Asia and to develop advanced SPMs. Dr. Park was also the founder of PSI. However, PSI and other 2 major SPM companies (Digital Instruments and TopoMetrix) were acquired by Veeco, which led to the termination of the relationship between PSI and PSIA. PSIA now focuses on providing reasonably priced advanced products to meet the demand for a second source of high quality SPMs. The company's business started to grow in 2002 when the Korean government allocated a large amount of R&D funding for nanotechnology related research. PSIA sold 40 units of the XE-100 SPM in the first year it was introduced into the market. Now the company is expanding its distribution network to the US, Japan, China, Taiwan, and Singapore. Additionally, PSIA is receiving research grants from the Korean government in support of their R&D programs.

The "Innovative Technology," "Innovative Enterprise," and "Innovative Idea" awards were given to Dr. Louis Shu of NanoSpire, Inc. (USA), Dr. Timothy Ryan of Epigem Ltd. (UK), and Mr. Kenkichi Suzuki (Japan), respectively. The rest of the finalists received a Business Plan Contest award. Interestingly, three of the five recipients of the Business Plan Contest Award were business plans for quasi-government joint ventures in India, China, and Singapore. Local governments and private firms jointly established these nanotech ventures. These plans ranked lower in the contest probably because the plans appeared to be greatly influenced by public policy promoting the nanotechnology sector in each region and did not provide enough focus on commercialization and market potential.

As previously mentioned, it was clear that the ten finalists of the business plan contest were in different stages of corporate growth. Some firms have been operating for years, while others were recently started. Therefore, the comparison of business plans was not a straightforward process for the review panel. Nonetheless, the reviewers generally agreed to the final ranking based on the aggregated scores. Generally, those who submitted well-prepared business plans received higher scores. In this regard, some of the Japanese and Asian entrepreneurs should have put more thought into the development of their business plans. Each contender stressed the importance of strategic alliances with partners in different technical fields and different geographic regions. For start-up and relatively young companies with limited resources, it is critical to team up with strategic partners for application development, manufacture, and distribution support. This is especially important for nanotechnology ventures since their business plans will most likely cater to diverse applications and markets. The recent contest provided existing and potential nanotech entrepreneurs with outreach opportunities.

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