The Next Big Thing is Really Small

The local newspaper for Silicon Valley is the San Jose Mercury News.  Each Monday, the SJMN has a Technology Section instead of a Business Section.  The Tech Section used to be really nice – a wonderful way to keep us on things throughout technology, but it has been getting thinner and thinner over the past few years.  This morning, the entire section had only four articles (just 4 in the entire section!!!).  Sad really, but that will be the subject of a different post on another day.

One of the four articles in today’s Tech Section of the SJMN reported on a study of 1,218 companies, university and other entities developing nanotechnology.  The article is here.  It is interesting, and you should read it – but it got me thinking about a conversation that I had just last night.

I get together with a group of good friends every couple of months to swap ideas, discuss what is happening in the world, and generally enjoy one another’s company.  The excuse for the gathering is a Book Club – but we rarely talk much about the book that we might or might not have read.  Because all of us are in some way connected many disparate to Silicon Valley companies, one thing that we always do talk about is where we see trends going in technology.

Early in the evening, I was asked one of the standard questions – what good technologies am I seeing these days?  I’m pretty passionate about the companies in which I invest and in the technologies that I see in business plans.  So, no surprise that I launched into a description of five or six exciting companies (some in my fund’s portfolio, some not).

When I came up for air, he said “That’s really interesting.  You have described several companies – each one of which is in a different industry.  Each one of them is solving an old problem in a radical new way.  Each one of them is using nanotechnology.”  It was a marvelous insight.

Five years ago, nanotechnology was a field of investment – like software, chips, or communications.  Today, nanotechnology is one of the tools available to a technologist when deciding how to attack whatever market need he has decided to solve.  In fact, nanotechnology has become one of the most flexible and powerful tools available.  Techniques are coming out of the university labs and being applied to specific products on a regular basis.

You want something lower cost?  Nanotechnology is a good approach.

You want something stronger and lighter?  Want to increase efficiencies?  Generate power from light, or from air?  Want to create drinkable water from sea water (and generate power while doing so)?  Want to create a material that has properties not found in nature?  Nanotechnology can do them all.

While the general population and most of the venture investing world have been busy paying attention to Twitter and Facebook, we have quietly been laying the foundation for a revolution as important and as far-reaching as integrated circuits or the internet.

Hang on.  This is going to be quite a ride.  For those of you of my generation – it is an “E Ticket.”

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