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Experts Predict Economic Boom From Nanotechnology

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Greensboro, N.C. -- North Carolina could experience the same economic returns from nanotechnology as it has in the past 30 years from biotechnology investments if the state capitalizes on its strengths in emerging technologies with support that leads to commercialization of its innovations, according to leading experts in science, education, and business who spoke at the second annual NC Nanotech Conference held March 13, 2007 at the Grandover Resort and Conference in Greensboro.

Developed and hosted by the Piedmont Triad Entrepreneurial Network (PTEN), the conference is designed for entrepreneurs, executives and investors from across the region who have an interest in the wide-range of opportunities associated with nanotechnology and its commercial applications.

"Thirty years ago North Carolina did not have a biotechnology cluster," said Robert McMahan, Ph.D., Senior Advisor to the Governor of North Carolina for Science and Technology. "Now it is the third largest biotechnology state with more than 350 bioscience companies. North Carolina was successful in recognizing that investments in technology could be a driver for the economy. Today, such strategic and patient investments in nanotechnology capability and capacity at the 48 nanotech companies throughout the state can replicate the biotechnology success."

He said a shift is coming in the biopharma field from single focus, single domain dominance to broad based disciplines that will have strong competitive positions in the next 10 years. As an example, he said that the life sciences cluster will shift from "things you take to the things that tell you what to take, the diagnostics that support preventive medicine."

"This is where nanotechnology comes into play. The successful companies will be those that can commercialize innovations that merge biotechnology, infotechnology, cognitive intelligence and nanotechnology," he said.

Jon Obermeyer, PTEN's president, cited collaboration among venture capital firms, experienced management talent and universities as the foundation to a successful nanotechnology cluster. "It takes all these entities to bring about commercialization, which leads to economic development and translates into jobs."

One such company that has been successful in commercializing technologies is nCoat, Inc., the holding company of High Performance Coatings, manufacturer of protective coatings (surface treatment materials) with nano-scale particulates and chemical reactions that provide heat, corrosion and abrasion protection in multiple industries such as automotive (i.e. benefits such as greater horsepower and engine torque and longer lasting valve springs). The company currently employs 70 in its eastern Guilford County facility.

"The key to dominance in the future nanotech economy is to commercialize products now and get the jobs on the ground ahead of competing states and international economies," said Paul Clayson, chairman and CEO of nCoat, Inc. "Governments can accelerate the rate of immediate commercialization by aggressively promoting rapid and easy technology transfer from its research institutions now rather than getting caught in a never finished syndrome. Every nanotech research institution needs a salesperson seeking daily to transfer nanotech IP to existing businesses or recruiting idle entrepreneurs to take the ideas forward."

"States with investment tax credits or other economic incentives for new or emerging nanotech companies will draw business incubation, especially when they have undervalued assets like North Carolina. Government leaders can help by providing superior government services support from local and state public resources, and helping to facilitate both private capital formation and incubation management team resources. If commercialization is relegated to later stages of this explosive economic cycle, states will find their intellectual property and their jobs exported to states where commercialization and training of nanotech knowledge workers were the early stage focus. The bedrock locations of nanotech jobs and products will be defined in the next five years. After that, those who win now will only gain additional traction. North Carolina does not have 30 years to conquer this Goliath."

Tom Roberg, CEO of LaamScience, Inc., a company developing a nano-coating that kills and inactivates a number of viruses and bacteria, agrees.

"Almost all experts agree that nanotechnology will be the industry of the 21st century. But to make that happen, we need to have some real applications for this most extraordinary technology. Investors are interested in technology, but they are more interested in participating in successful companies," Roberg said. "State support is vital to help early stage companies get off the ground. There seems to be plenty of equity capital available for established companies, but little for new companies relying on technology transferred out of our university systems."

Nanotechnology is a fast-moving industry and opportunities must be created for innovators to bring their products to market, said Dr. Reyad Sawafta, CEO of the N.C. Nanotech Accelerator, QuarTek Corp. and DentalSafe. In the past six months Sawafta has announced two milestones for his nascent Piedmont Triad nanotechnology companies -- a partnership with NanoTech Labs to focus on technology to make more efficient batteries and the securing of initial funding to launch several innovations for dentists.

"The purpose of the N.C. Accelerator is to nurture technologies that have the potential for the kind of quick commercialization that investors like," he said. "There are seven firms that are either in the accelerator now or planning to join shortly."

About PTEN

Formed in July 2004, Piedmont Triad Entrepreneurial Network provides comprehensive entrepreneurial support to the Triad. A collaboration of leadership in Greensboro, High Point and Winston-Salem, PTEN is funded primarily by Action Greensboro, Winston-Salem Alliance and High Point Partners and corporate sponsors. It offers programs, resources and services in five major areas: education and mentoring, networking, business plan competitions, capital access and communications.

As a resource for innovative entrepreneurs and companies in the Piedmont Triad region and the State of North Carolina, PTEN's distinctive programs include a Growth Accelerator Program, Capital Connection Breakfasts and an annual NEXUS Supply Chain Strategy and Innovation Conference.

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