A Nanotechnology Definition for Investors in 2016
We recently published an article on 30 emerging technologies that investors should be watching and we were quick to notice that nowhere in that list was any mention of nanotechnology. Whatever happened to all the wonders of nanotechnology that we were promised? We’ve been hearing for years about how carbon nanotubes were the way forward and that a miracle material called graphene was going to solve all our problems. None of these promises seem to have transpired leaving us to ask, is nanotechnology dead? The way we see it, nanotechnology has never been more alive, except that now we’re calling it something very different.
A Nanotechnology Definition
Let’s start with the most basic definition of nanotechnology there is:
Nanotechnology is the manipulation of matter at a scale of 100 nanometers or less.
We could get just sit and read about this sort of thing for days on end but as investors we’re here to make money off of “the next big thing” so we’re going to expand the definition to something like this:
Nanotechnology is the manipulation of matter at a scale of less than 100 nanometers that results in supernatural effects which can be applied to any particular industry resulting in benefits which either create entirely new markets or disrupt existing markets.
That should be about what we’re looking for as investors. If we look at carbon nanotubes and graphene, they passed the first definition but failed the second because as of now, they haven’t created any new markets or disrupted any existing markets on a large scale. Carbon nanotube tennis rackets and graphene bike wheels don’t count. While we have had some nano drug delivery companies IPO like Selecta Biosciences and carbon nanotube memory (NRAM) has finally debuted, we’re left scratching our heads as to why nanotechnology is not on the list of the 30 most promising disruptive technologies. We think that in fact it is on the list, but now it’s so pervasive that we’ve just started calling it other things. Take a look at the below table:
Here we can see that 12 out of 30 emerging technologies are either a manifestation of nanotechnology by definition or use nanotechnology specifically. Let’s look at some examples of each.
Emerging Technologies that Use Nanotechnology
Five emerging technologies are using nanotechnology in a meaningful manner. Many of the advances we see in next generation batteries result from using nanomaterials for battery components. Advanced materials pretty much just refer to nanomaterials these days like those being used by pretty much all the thermoelectric startups we profiled. The broad renewable energy space uses nanotechnology with examples like processes that produce biofuels. While the majority of 3D printing doesn’t involve nanotechnology, we do see the emergence of 3D printing filaments that use graphene and 3D printing electronics with nano inks. A technology called microfluidics enables organ-on-a-chip solutions which operate on the nano level.
Emerging Technologies that Are Nanotechnology
Seven emerging technologies seem to be nanotechnology just by definition. We recently wrote about optogenetics which involves using gene therapy techniques to inject photosensory molecules into neurons which would certainly be considered manipulation at the nano level. The same would hold true for gene editing, immune engineering, or any sort of genetic engineering that involves modifying things at a molecular level. Systems metabolic engineering pretty much describes how one can create the sort of futuristic nano machines that Eric Drexler talked about. The idea of the digital genome where your genetic “fingerprint” is used to provide personalized healthcare is also enabled by techniques at the nano level which are used to decode your genome. Lastly, quantum computing works at the nano level where we use qubits as building blocks.
Investing in Nanotechnology
As we can see, nanotechnology is far from dead. In fact, nanotechnology is so alive and well that it is now just common practice for us to be manipulating matter at the nano level which has enabled a whole slew of exciting technologies to invest in. The idea of “investing in nanotechnology” doesn’t seem to make much sense anymore. Sure, we may consider graphene companies to be “nanotechnology companies” but the real exciting emerging technologies do not contain the prefix “nano-” but rather just use nanotechnology as a tool that enable us to realize benefits which either create entirely new markets or disrupt existing markets. That’s ultimately what we’re looking for as investors who want to invest in tomorrow’s big technologies today.