Canada forms new alliance
to get in on the nano action

TORONTO — Canada’s Neil Gordon hopes to convince his government to make a commitment to nanotechnology similar to the National Nanotechnology Initiative in the United States.

Gordon is a partner and nanotech analyst with Sygertech Consulting Group Inc., a technology consulting firm in Montreal, and president of the newly minted Canadian NanoBusiness Alliance.

Gordon and other alliance members will introduce their organization at the NanoBusiness Spring 2002 conference in New York this week.

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Gordon is bringing together the core elements of a constituency he hopes will push the Canadian government into forging a coordinated strategy for nanotechnology.

“Canada is one of the only industrialized countries without a nanotech initiative,” he said. “So, our first mission is to raise the visibility — in Canada and internationally — of Canada’s nanotech future.”

In his meetings with government officials at the National Research Council and Industry Canada, he laid out the same pitch he used to sign members of Canada’s academic, industrial, government and financial communities, as well as international VIPs like Nobel laureate Richard Smalley, into his group.

He talked about the need for universities to adopt more aggressive technology transfer sales teams, venture capitalists to visualize new opportunities, foreign investors to see the critical mass of intelligence and enterprise as the basis for investment and partnerships, and for governments to see the jobs that could be created.

While the Canadian government has officially designated Edmonton, Alberta, as home to the National Institute for Nanotechnology, Gordon said there are, in fact, four other nanotech centers in Canada: Ottawa, Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver.

Gordon said that like former President Clinton’s nanotech initiative — which seeded funding through the National Science Foundation NASA and the Departments of Energy, Defense and Health — Canada could do more to foster and coordinate nanotech through its own agencies, institutions and industries.

“There are at least 200 companies, 30 universities, 50 government research centers and thousands of grad students” all working in some area of nanotechnology, he said. While Canada now only occupies a “niche” in the nanotech world, it has the potential to be “a powerhouse” in the future, he added.

The intellectual and scientific infrastructure is in place, he said, for Canada to become “a major player.”

Canada’s jump into the arena of nanotech alliances comes at a time when nanotechnology is exploding in many new directions.

“Nine months ago, when we announced the (New York) conference we were the only nano event. Since then, other conferences have been announced or held at the rate of one a week,” said Mark Modzelewski, founder and executive director of the U.S. NanoBusiness Alliance and one of the conference organizers.

“Canada came on the radar pretty early” in nanotech development, he said, adding that C Sixty Inc., founded by Uri Sagman, has done impressive work in developing AIDS-fighting protease inhibitors, anti-cancer agents and treatments for osteoporosis.

Toronto-based C Sixty, however, is moving its headquarters to Houston and the biggest nanotechnology debate in Canada so far has been over whether the federally sponsored nanotech center would be built in Alberta or some other province. Despite its bureaucratic handicaps, Canadian nanotechnology has developed “a strong reputation in the material and biosciences,” though it is lagging in IT and electronics, he said.

Modzelewski said that for Canada to compete with the rest of the world, it needs what Gordon is trying to do with his alliance — an organized effort to “fill in the holes and foster the strengths,” he said.

Sagman, Canadian NanoBusiness Alliance’s executive director, said there is no question Canada has the “wealth and depth in hand,” but the national initiative to integrate all the interested stakeholders doesn’t exist.

While Gordon’s group has allies within various government agencies, he has been given “no assurances” that Canada will develop its own NNI.

“If there is no collective voice, no strategic vision, our window of opportunity will be reduced,” Gordon said

Sagman spoke to about 150 people at a breakfast meeting organized by the Toronto Biotechnology Initiative on May 17. But while attendees included scientists, academics, venture capitalists, major corporations, representatives of various U.S. states and interested individuals, no representative of Canada’s federal government was there.

Two economists from Ontario’s finance ministry did attend. But one of them, Irfan Mandozai, said the province has no specific programs to stimulate nanotechnology, although plans for a major cancer research project could include some investment in that area.


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