Nanotechnology is no “small matter” when it comes to economic development.
That’s the tagline for the Denver-based Colorado Nanotechnology Association, whose goal is to make the state one of the top 10 places for nanotechnology companies.
“It’s the single most important industry of the next 10 years,” said Debbie Woodward, the group’s executive director. “Everything we do, all the new products and all the existing products, will use nanotechnology — the cars we drive, glasses we wear, computers, what we clean our sinks with.”
Nanotechnology involves building electronic circuits and devices from single atoms and molecules. It is expected to be a $1 trillion global industry by 2015, and employ 7 million people in the United States. In Colorado, the industry accounts for $40.5 million of the state’s economy and $14.2 million in research and development expenditures.
The association is focused on attracting, retaining and expanding nanotechnology in Colorado. The association was formed following a 14-month study by the University of Colorado at Boulder Leeds School of Business. The study drew a “road map” for the industry within the state — where it is now, where it needs to be, Woodward said.
“Our goal is to bring Colorado into the top 10, with states like California, New York, Massachusetts, Texas and New Mexico,” she said. “We have gotten a good start already, but we’re prepared to do more.”
The CNA will release the study Sept. 18, the first day of the annual Tech Week.
The Colorado Springs Economic Development Corp. participated in the study, providing information on local companies that use nanotechnology.
“It’s so important to identify industry clusters for which we have a competitive advantage,” said Kara Roberts, vice president of local industry at the EDC. “It’s critical to Colorado to move forward. We are very competitive – nanotechnology spans across a lot of different industries, where we already have strength. It makes sense for us to compete for this technology.”
Roberts said the group will continue to collaborate with the association.
“This will benefit the state and local economy, so we will definitely help grow the relationships that will brand Colorado as a great place to use and advance nanotechnology,” she said.
The road map features five target areas. The first includes functional areas such as leadership, research and development. The group also will focus on technology transfer, Woodward said.
“There’s a huge amount of research going on in the state,” she said. “Universities are really leading the way. We have to take it from the lab to commercial use.”
Technology transfer can be time-consuming and costly, said Ken Porter, director of licensing for the University of Colorado’s Colorado Institute for Technology Transfer and Implementation.
“Companies sometimes don’t want to take that risk,” he said. “So we work with technology incubators and get involved to help folks who have a good idea create a business from it. Often times, research is too far away from the market, so we marshal the resources to start that process.”
Porter said the association could use CITTI’s contacts to increase technology transfer opportunities for nanotechnology.
“We haven’t worked with them yet,” he said. “But we are here to serve as the liaison between the university and business worlds.”
Partnerships with groups like CITTI are one of the goals outlined in the road map, said Woodward. By working with nonprofits with high-tech focuses, the association hopes to find economic development money and persuade the state legislature to fund additional grants for nanotechnology.
The group also plans to focus on children — kindergarten through college students — to create the highly educated work force needed for nanotechnology businesses.
“We’re going to need a community college curriculum in place to put us into a true high-tech position,” Woodward said.
The fourth goal is economic development, working with existing companies to create opportunities.
There are 75 nanotechnology companies in Colorado. Four are in Colorado Springs. Most are in the Denver and Boulder metro areas and employ more than 9,000 people, Woodward said.
“One of the things we’ll release with the road map is a map of the state, where these businesses are concentrated,” she said. “We’ll list the companies and the support companies as well.”
In Colorado, most of the nanotechnology companies focus on electronics and aerospace technology. Homeland security, biomedical, defense and energy companies also use nanotechnology in their products, Woodward said.
“We’re still at an early stage,” she said. “Everyone thinks nanotechnology is far, far away; but everything we do in the next 10 to 20 years will be affected by nanotechnology. It’s important we do this now, we start attracting companies now.”
Economic development is Woodward’s “passion.” She has more than 20 years of experience, having served as the economic development coordinator in Jefferson and Adams counties.