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Sarah Plumridge/Medill


Nanotech companies thrive in economic downturn

by Sarah Plumridge
Nov 22, 2010


While the economic downturn causes problems for local businesses, some companies have found a solution at a level so small it can only be seen using a specialized microscope.

Vincent Caprio, executive director of the NanoBusiness Alliance, says nanotechnology based companies are thriving.

Nanotechnology is the application of nanoscale materials and devices. One nanometer is a billionth of a meter.  A human hair is about 10,000 nanometers wide.

The NanoBusiness Alliance, based in Skokie, promotes the commercialization of nanotechnology companies and helps companies bring products to the market, Caprio said.

“Biotechnology and big pharmaceuticals pretty much don’t get affected by the recession,” he said.  

Nano companies are succeeding because companies such as Intel, IBM, and other technology firms work at the nano level, Caprio said.  Because nano products produced by companies are embedded in other industries such as biotech, oil and semi-conductor manufacturing, there is no stand-alone nano industry, he said.

“We are doing pretty well,” said David Arthur, chief executive officer of SouthWest NanoTechnologies, in Norman, Okla. “We are not profitable yet, but hope to be profitable in the next few months.”

The company, which started in 2001, has hired 10 people in two months, Arthur said.

Its founder invented a process to make the highest quality nanocarbon products that are still affordable, Arthur said. The firm produce nanocarbon tubes, which are used in a wide number of applications such as printed electronics, touch screens and in batteries, he said.  

“The company is at an early stage and beginning to ramp up in production,” he said. Most of these technologies will be in flexible materials that are coming out, Arthur said.  

“If we are going to come out of the economy we are now in, then we need technology growth,” said Jim Hussey, chief executive officer of NanoInk, in Skokie, Ill. NanoInk is a nanotechnology company started in 2001 that developed Dip Pen Nanolithography technology to create products such as protein detection assays and instruments for nanoscale engineering, said Hussey.  

“We are a several million dollar company and we are still here,” he said.