Nanogate puts the nano inside, and lets partners do the selling

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Nov. 1, 2002 — Nanogate GmbH kicked off the year with Olympian success, and has not allowed it to go downhill since.

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The German nanomaterials maker said earlier this month it would team up with a German chemical concern to market products for outdoor activities, starting with the ski wax it supplied to several teams during the 2002 Winter Olympics. This week at a German trade show, it unveiled a thermal protection coating for glass. They follow the firm’s first product — a nanocoating that makes surfaces easier to clean in kitchens and bathrooms.

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They are diverse, but all these products unite under one mission: Integrate nanotechnology to boost strength, durability or performance, but seek someone else to sell them.

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“The Nanogate strategy is to look for sales partners,” said Ralf Zastrau, chief executive officer. “Nanogate is more of a technology core — we develop products but don’t do sales. That way you can easily handle three fields, and it doesn’t conflict with the company.”

It also limits conflict with competitors, according to Zastrau.

He said that although others firms, such as nanoengineered products maker Nanophase Technologies, compete with Nanogate in individual fields, they do not share Nanogate’s business model.

“We’re not a powder manufacturer, though we do it sometimes in special areas,” he said. “The thing is not to make it, but incorporate it into existing materials and make it into products. You can do that in months, not years.”

Nanogate, based in Saarbrucken, Germany, was formed in 1999 and posted about $4 million in revenue in 2001, up from $2.2 million in 2000. Zastrau said the company is expected to break even in profits by the end of next year, but individual products already make money.

Spinoffs and strategic partnerships are one way to keep Nanogate focused on its goal of developing marketable products for its nanocomposites, ceramics and powders.

That was the motivation behind the joint venture with German chemical concern Loba, and its Holmenkol ski wax, to form Holmenkol Sport-Technologies GmbH & Co. Zastrau said Nanowax is the ideal platform from which to transfer the technology into other sports and outdoor activities, such as anti-fouling or ice-repellant coatings for boats and water planes. New products are due early next year.

“I predict we’ll see a lot more of (these deals),” said Tim Harper, chief executive of the nanotech consulting firm CMP-Cientifica and executive director of the European Nanobusiness Association.

“Most nanotechnologies have applications in more than one market. … As the technology — as opposed to applications — matures, more opportunities for revenue generation will appear.”

But Harper cautioned that it will take good management to ensure that companies keep their focus and optimally exploit technology. Creating spinoffs, he said, might be the right approach.

He said Nanogate’s particles are a great example of how tiny particles can make a huge difference to performance, whether in ski wax, heat-resistant windshields or anti-graffiti coatings for buildings, also developed by the firm and sold by a German chemical concern.

“Nanogate has products shipping using their nanomaterials expertise and a whole bunch more in the pipeline,” he said. “Let’s not forget that nanotech is all about materials, and Nanogate is one of the best examples anywhere of anyone actually applying nanotechnology.”


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