Nano organization tries to put The Valley back on Washington’s map

SANTA CLARA, Calif., Oct. 23, 2002 — It used to be that scientists and entrepreneurs were well represented at the White House. Many of the founding fathers were technologists, and the Constitution and patent and copyright laws were written by entrepreneurs for entrepreneurs. But a couple of centuries later, technologists are having a difficult time talking to legislators, and vice versa.

While legislation is being written to ensure innovation in nanotechnology, the Silicon Valley is trying hard to earn its credibility back in D.C. after the dot-com bubble burst. Although nanotechnology is being developed in the region’s universities, labs and companies, communication between The House and The Valley has become strained at best.

Jim Hurd, Silicon Valley software entrepreneur, founded the NanoScience Exchange (NSE) to bring scientists, entrepreneurs, legislators and media professionals to the same table.

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Late last month, several dozen people attended NSE’s third meeting, where they discussed a recent trip Hurd had taken to the capital for subcommittee hearings on the 21st Century Nanotechnology Research and Development Act. In Washington, Hurd demonstrated the wonders of his Eddie Bauer Nano-Tex, stain-resistant pants by spilling Oregon wine on it, provided by Sen. Ron Wyden’s (D-Ore.) office.

Hurd’s group is still just getting its footing, building a core group and deciding how it could help Silicon Valley entrepreneurs reach legislators. “I began to see nanotech startups that could easily be billion-dollar companies in the future,” Hurd said. “But they needed funding now to get to that point. People in Silicon Valley traditionally don’t have close relationships with legislators in D.C., and people in D.C. really don’t understand the entrepreneurs very well.

The meeting drew the attention of Anouschka Versleijen, the Netherlands’ science and technology attache to the Silicon Valley who reports back to her country about emerging technologies.

“I think it’s important for the nano community to go to D.C. and explain to the policy makers what nanotechnology is, so as to avoid the controversy that is surrounding stem cell research at the moment,” Versleijen said. “You really should look into the social implications of emerging sciences and begin educating people early about the benefits because once you get into a state where panic has broken out, it all becomes very complicated.”

One of the ways that legislators are showing their support for nanotech development is through the dollars it has granted to the U.S. National Nanotechnology Initiative.

“Most of the production of nanotechnology products is not going on in Silicon Valley right now — maybe 10 years in the future, I actually have no doubt about that,” said NNI Director Mike Roco. “Of course we welcome interaction with the nanotechnology groups in Silicon Valley, and we’re currently working with groups at NASA and Stanford.

“Unfortunately we do not have time to participate in all of the meetings about nanotechnology going on around the country, but we are making alliances across the country with the different nanotechnology organizations.”

Mark Modzelewski, executive director and founder of the NanoBusiness Alliance, a national trade group, said there’s enough room in the industry for quality groups. “We’re happy with any org that draws interest to nanotechnology and legislation. Having open conversations about nano in Silicon Valley makes sense. Jim’s a really good guy, and his heart is really into building the organization,” said Modzelewski, adding that the NanoBusiness Alliance is planning to open a Silicon Valley office by year’s end.

“In general there’s a tremendous need to get a higher level of understanding of nanotechnology to the government,” said Stanley Williams, a fellow and director of quantum science research at Hewlett-Packard Laboratories.

“It’s important that message be heard be it at the Palo Alto City Council, state legislatures or the U.S. government — especially about the opportunities and potential problems. Jim’s approach is a very good one, he’s finding and identifying the thought leaders in both nanotech and government and getting them to talk to each other. There are many groups surrounding nanotechnology and you have to choose carefully. We’ll probably see a consolidation some time in the future.”

Attending the meeting was Robert W. Schmieder, president of NanoLogic Inc., who has been involved in nanotechnology for 25 years as a physicist at Sandia National Laboratories. “There is a danger of the U.S. not recognizing how important the competitive advantage is and letting it go by default,” Schmieder said. “My company hit tough times; we’re finding it difficult to raise funds in this environment. So I’ve hunkered down and I’m waiting for better times. I think groups like the NSE are fueling a better future for the nanotech industry.”

The next NSE meeting, “Nanotechnology Applications in the U.S. Military,” is scheduled for Oct. 28 in Santa Clara, Calif.


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