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Posted: June 22, 2007
European nanotechnology commercialisation workshop identifies need for greater industrial engagement
(Nanowerk News) The report from the second Nanoforum workshop on nanotechnology commercialization has now been published, and identifies the use of public funding to enable greater industrial investment as the key challenge facing nanotechnology commercialization in Europe.
Participants at the workshop included investors, entrepreneurs, industry and other experts. The event took place in Helsinki at the end of March 2007 during Nanotech Northern Europe.
The workshop aimed to address three key challenges for European nanotechnology development; a low level of venture capital investment, low patenting rates, and a lower level of investment from industry.
The low level of venture capital is largely due to a shortage of suitable investment targets. Companies lack focused business models, commercial experience, and exit strategies. Whilst public funding sources may take the place of venture capital, the concern is that companies then lose the other benefits that investors would bring, such as in-depth industry understanding and networks.
Low patent productivity is a consequence of the difficulty of identifying the commercial potential of research, partly because research is not aligned to industrial needs. There are specific questions of motivation (publications being more highly prized) and patenting capability.
The explanation for low industrial investment, despite the presence of nanotechnology ‘global leaders’ among European industry, is a failure to activate wider industrial interest. A company contemplating an investment in nanotechnology development will be dissuaded by the obvious challenges (production scale-up, health and safety concerns) if they do not understand the less obvious opportunities that nanotechnology brings.
These challenges occur despite a level of investment in nanotechnology that is equal to that of other global regions. The core problem is therefore to ensure that public investment can be used to enable even greater industrial investment. This involves a number of specific measures to engage industry, combining technology road maps with industry visions to produce tangible research priorities.
Greater industrial engagement will also led to more venture capital investment and entrepreneurial activity, by increasing the viability of trade sales as an exit route for companies. Collaboration between industry and academia also increases the likelihood that research work will have commercial value, and will then be patented.