Strategic Futurists; Value Systems Specialists

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Nanotechnology Moves from idea to Application

Wednesday 16 June 2010

Every now and again you have an opportunity to listen to some rare insights to an industry sector. These opportunities are typically rare because the insights need to come from someone who not only 'knows their stuff', they need to be able to translate their knowledge in a way that the average person in the room (like me) can understand. A few weeks back the South East Business Networks group, in conjunction with the City of Greater Dandenong's Economic Development Unit landed a coup when Tim Harper, the CEO of Cientifica popped in to a breakfast session to chat about nanotechnology and its emerging application. In Australia as part of the Oliphant lectures, Tim Harper is a rare breed - a well credentialled scientist with a proven track record in taking a laboratory idea into real world applications AND who has the ability to explain in a straight forward, and dare I suggest humble way, what he does and where the nanotechnology industry is 'at'.

It was quite frankly, one of the most useful couple of hours I'd invested in recent times.

Tim discussed the state of the nanotechnology industry, how early 'evangelists' of nanotechnology had a great tool with no clear applications, and a marketplace that didn't understand the potential and how to tap it.  We learned that some of the key challenges for the nantechnology sector was opening the technology to a variety of potential end users with a question along the lines of 'how could you use this in your industry?'

Tim explained some of the key requirements for businesses in the sector - hang on long enough till a potential end user can work out how to apply what the technology can do for their business and their products; key government support until a critical mass of both technological maturity AND marketplace maturity had been established; and a willingness to engage with industry sectors to help them understand that there may well be an idea of great value.

Perhaps the best element of what Tim explained to those in the room was that although he is clearly a proponent for the benefits of nanotechnology, he wasn't there to preach to the masses and call them to the altar, rather he suggested that an on going engagement and exploration between potential end users and the developers of nanotechnology was critical to any chance of value being generated.

The SEMIP group (the South East Melbourne Innovation Precint, a collection of local Councils, Research bodies and businesses) were also in attendance and I hope were attuned to Tim's message - explore the potential, share ideas, don't try and go it alone.  Given my career working in the Corporate sector and having worked with and in the University sector, I understand all too well some of the difficulties that Industry players face when trying to work with the research agencies and Tertiary bodies in getting an idea out of the laboratory and into the real world.  In Australia the track record of commercialisation of University research is not what it should be (with many successes needing to go off-shore) and there appears a chance to get beyond the short termist approaches in the nanotechnology sector - I wish SEMIP all the success it can muster in achieving that aim.

For more details on nanotechnology or Tim Harper, take a look at the Cientifica website; 

The challenge now for those in the room and those who should have been in the room, is to explore the potential that exists in both current and emerging nanotechnology applications.  SEBN landed a real coup in having Tim chat to the manufacturers in Australia's manufacturing heartland but now its up to those companies to take the next step


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