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Q&A: Matthew Laudon

The co-founder of an institute promoting the commercialization of nanotechnology sees big business in tiny tech

Posted on May 7, 2006

Matthew Laudon has built a career on tiny matters that are thinner than human hair and promise to deliver better healthcare, more fuel-efficient cars, and cooler electronic gadgets. Mr. Laudon is the co-founder of the Nano Science and Technology Institute (NSTI) in Cambridge, Massachusetts, an organization that promotes academic research and commercialization of nanotechnology. This week, he will see thousands of people from universities, venture capital firms, and private and public businesses flocking to an annual conference that brings the global nanotech community to Boston.

Gathering some 3,500 attendees is no small task, and demonstrates the growing interest by the investment and business communities in turning nanotech into everyday products. It hasn’t always been the case. Even just four years ago, the conference saw 20 exhibitors. This year, 300 companies will fill the expo hall at the Haynes Convention Center.

Mr. Laudon, who received a PhD at the Wisconsin Center for Nanotechnology and Synchrotron Radiation Center, knows the industry well. Before he started the institute, he had worked with micro and nanotech startups. He also worked at Motorola’s Los Alamos National Laboratories and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology of Lausanne.

Red Herring caught up with Mr. Laudon to ask him about nanotech trends and what people can expect from the conference.

Q: How has nanotech research changed since you co-created the NSTI?
A: We are seeing so much more impact of these technologies working their way into products. But there is no real label placed on them that say nano—it’s just having a faster chip or an imaging process so that the doctor can see more clearly.

Q: Are startups better at pitching their ideas now than five years ago?
A: So many companies early on were coming out of universities and research labs. They were good about presenting their technologies but not savvy at saying here is what we need and here is why and the benefits. We coach them quite a bit and make them identify the markets.

Q: Have startups found it easier to exit than before?
A: I would have to say that it will be more merger and acquisitions and licensing than IPOs. Some of the more mature companies have embedded technologies that fit well with an existing company and product line.

Q: Is the term “nano” overused?
A: Using “nanotechnology” is a good way to put a bubble around all those deals flowing across traditional, separate industries. But in the end, it’s just in a product.

Q: Name one of your favorite startups.
A: Nantero.

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