If you think microscopic machines that can destroy malignant cells in the body, build super, ultra-small computers and create materials of super strength sounds incredible, you ain't seen nothing yet.

Learn how startups can ride the coming

Nanotechnology wave

It all can become possible because of Nanotechnology an emerging science in which new materials and tiny structures or machines are built atom-by-atom. It sounds like science fiction, but its scientific reality that could revolutionize how we live and how we do business

Most scientists agree that nanotechnology is on the verge of breaking into the marketplace and will profoundly influence high-tech industry in the 21st century.

Kent Summers

The founding member of W3C at MIT who has built and sold three software companies, describes nanotechnology as the "Coming Tsunami." Nanotechnology has received as much acclaim as a rock star but Summers says we haven't seen anything yet

"There's been a lot of buzz in academic and intellectual circles. But it's only the tip of the iceberg, It's a phenomenon that will have a tremendous impact on our daily lives"

However, Summers said not to expect nano-machines for sale at the local hardware store soon. But make no mistake that nanotechnology is going to make a lot of inventors, entrepreneurs and investors rich, Summers predicts

James Murday

Superintendent, Chemistry Division Naval Research Laboratory points out that the next step is to take nanotechnology research from intellectual circles to the commercial marketplace.

Murday notes that in the last five years, there's been a tremendous growth. But that's only the beginning. In 1997, business involving nanotechnology reached $115 million, but today there's more than $600 million. In fact, the U.S. is lagging behind the rest of the world which will do about $900 million this year. To get a perspective on how important the federal government thinks this emerging science is, visit

"We're struggling right now with how to get the research to the commercial market," Murday said. "There's an outreach challenge. But there's a clear growth in nanotechnology which will multiple an incredible amount once the research spawns consumer products."

Some of the possibilities include

  • The creation of entirely new materials with superior strength, electrical conductivity, resistance to heat and other properties
  • Microscopic machines for a variety of uses, including probes that could be injected into the body for medical diagnostics and repair
  • A new class of ultra-small, super-powerful computers and other electronic devices, including spacecraft.
  •  A technology in which biology and electronics are merged, creating "gene chips" that instantly detect food-borne contamination, dangerous substances in the blood or chemical warfare agents in the air.
  • Artificial organs.
  • The development of "molecular electronics" and devices that "self assemble," similar to the growth of complex organic structures in living organisms. Theoretically, once set in motion, such self-assembling devices would build themselves, making electronics processing far less expensive than conventional semiconductor processing.

Dr. James Klemic

A lecturer in the Departments of Applies Physics, Electrical Engineering and Biomedical Engineering at Yale, said it's definitely possible to build circuits on a molecular scale. The challenge is to make useful electronic devices.

Glenn Fishbine

Author of "The Investor's Guide to Nanotechnology and Micromachines" highlighted what investors are looking for from high-tech startups

  • First, an entrepreneur must be able to explain his product or service to an 8 year old. Nanotechnology involves esoteric physical research that is complex but must be broken down for the laymen's perspective. Know your product and tell investors specifically how you intend to attack the market
  •  Prove you're capable of selling your product or service. A high-tech entrepreneurs must understand the market. Be prepared to convince VCs and Angels how you fit into the marketplace
  • Choose investors wisely. Investors specialize in specific areas. You can have the best idea for a new nano-mouse trap but you still need an investor who is interested in building the better trap
  • Select a management team with experience. All investors sleep better and are more apt to write checks when there's a top notch management team in place.

"In 1999, sixty-five to seventy percent of business failed in the first five years or so," Fishbine said. "High tech has a three times greater incidence of failure. It's probable but not inevitable."

Summers explained that entrepreneurs often rush to investors to explain their innovative idea or product, forgetting to develop customers before they ask for a check. It might sound like a Catch-22 that you need customers to draw financers; but it answers a couple basic concerns of investors:

  • Will the dogs eat it? This means there's definitely a market for your goods or services.
  • Your management team can execute. An experienced team is key and there's no better way to prove that they can carry out the business plan
  • Customers expose your weak spots. Listen to them and make changes. 

"Get the first customer; and the first is always the hardest," Summers said. "But customers help you shape your product. It forces startups to get creative. Look for the pain – the shortcomings – in your business. Customers will tell you, if you'll listen."