Nano-Tex’s Tice finds new answers to existing market problems

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Oct. 7, 2004 – There is no such thing as “the new economy.” Instead, look at it as the old economy combined with new technologies. And the basic rules that dictate sound business practices still apply.

That’s the sentiment of billionaire Wilbur Ross Jr., the financier who bought bankrupt textile giant Burlington Industries in part to acquire its majority stake in Nano-Tex LLC.

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That also appears to be the philosophy of Nano-Tex, a 6-year-old nanotech company whose chief executive officer rarely mentioned the prefix “nano” or the word “technology” in a panel presentation at NanoCommerce 2004 on Wednesday.

“Nano-Tex isn’t just about scale,” said Donn Tice, who also stepped in as a surrogate for Ross, chairman of the board at Nano-Tex and chairman and CEO of W.L. Ross and Co. “We take advantage of properties to find new solutions to existing market problems.”

Tice emphasized the need for products, revenues and good management at a session that traced the success of Nano-Tex from its infancy as a nanotech innovator to a growing company positioned to tap a $2-billion potential market in clothing and other textiles. Nano-Tex designs nanoscale additives that can wrap around or bind to fibers to give fabrics qualities such as a softer touch or water resistance.

Nano-Tex’s mission is to bring innovative performance to fabrics, Tice said. In 2003, it focused on improving its products, services and brand marketing to build up a base of clothing customers and production partners.

The company now works with more than 40 retail brands and more than 50 manufacturers worldwide, and appears in more than 20-million garments.

It also built up its management team and established key centers in California, North Carolina and Italy. It has sites in Japan, Korea, Hong Kong, Turkey and India as well.

Nano-Tex began as an operation headed by founder and inventor David Soane and his scientific colleague David Offord. They developed molecules that could be added to fibers to make fabric waterproof.

In the late 1990s, Soane approached Burlington Industries Chief Executive George Henderson III with an offer to demonstrate the technology.

Soane, an inventor who looks for opportunities to infuse nano-based technologies into old industries, said the critical ingredient is having a demonstrable prototype. After the demonstration, Burlington took a 35 percent ownership in the company and added another 16 percent by 1999 to become a majority owner.

“Talk is cheap,” Soane said. “Having something that shed water maybe convinced George Henderson.”

Tice joined Nano-Tex in early 2003, replacing Henderson as CEO. Burlington, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 2001, recently was purchased by turnaround financier Ross. Nano-Tex, through Burlington, is now part of the Ross firm International Textiles Group.

Through Henderson and later Tice, Soane learned the importance of integrating his novel technology into existing infrastructures such as textile mills. It’s a lesson that he now applies to a handful of nanotech startups that address markets as diverse as cosmetics, food and building materials.

But Soane said the even greater challenge is in making technology into a robust business. “There is a world of difference between building a product and building a company,” he said.

Nano-Tex has managed to grow sales by more than 50 percent annually by providing value to its customers, Tice said. “We try to make it really easy for people to buy our product,” he said. “We work in a value-added relationship with our partners.”

Tice gave a glimpse of Nano-Tex’s near-term and long-term prospects. He said Nano-Tex would announce two or three new apparel products in the next 10 to 20 days that feature properties such as spill resistance and better comfort. The company would be switching to a new hangtag marketing strategy that used simple icons and color identifies to promote the Nano-Tex brand.

He offered a vision of clothing in 10 to 15 years where today’s novel enhancements were expected characteristics, and many fabrics were infused with wanted properties. Lifestyle changes would include reduced laundry needs and clothes that can withstand the most brutal of kid behavior.

Tice filled in for Ross on what was scheduled to be a three-person panel. Soane represented the early stages of Nano-Tex’s development, Tice the transition into a viable and growing business and Ross the vision and ability to achieve global dominance. Another business concern forced Ross to cancel on Wednesday.

The three-day NanoCommerce 2004 conference, with an estimated attendance of 400, will wrap up today. The conference was produced by Small Times Media and supported by NanoBusiness Alliance.


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