I first mentioned the Canadian company, Vive Nano, in my Nov. 9, 2009 posting when it received $3.8M from the Ontario government through that province’s Innovation Demonstration Fund. They’ve been mentioned here since (June 25, 2010 posting about their Frost & Sullivan Technology Innovation Award and Oct. 11, 2010 posting about their marketing efforts in India) and, after my good intentions ran out, I finally got a chance to interview Darren Anderson, Vive Nano’s Chief Technology Officer and (ETA Mar.1.11) Keith Thomas, President and Chief Executive Officer.
(a) Can you tell me a little bit about why the company is called Vive Nano and give me a brief company history, e.g. was it a spin-off from a university; how many founders are there; how did you get to know each other, etc.?
The company was founded by 6 scientists at the University of Toronto. The scientists had been working together for years and a number had participated in a course called Entrepreneurship 101, which is run by an Ontario-funded organization called MaRS. [You can find MaRS here.] We decided to pursue a non-traditional route, instead of joining academia or a research lab – and we have not looked back since. We spun the company out of the university in 2006 and it really got going in 2007 when the full management team joined and outside investment was brought in.
We chose the name Vive Nano because we felt it would work well across cultures. When we heard the word vive we thought of life; we felt that it had a strong, vibrant and forward thinking feel. And we felt that it mirrored our company values: smart, open and responsible. We strive to be smart in how we execute our work, open to new ideas and responsible in the application of what we do for the greater good.
(b) The Vive Nano website states that your main focus is developing products for the ‘catalyst’ and ‘crop protection’ industries. Could you give me a little more detail about that? For example, I associate crop protection with pesticides, is that what you mean?
A large part of our work is on improved crop protection formulations that can positively impact crop yields and lower environmental impact. We work with bioinert and biodegradable polymers in place of the solvents currently used to deliver crop protection products. We are developing products, including pesticides that have the potential to dramatically reduce the amount of chemicals used by farmers, leading to cleaner air, cleaner soil and cleaner water. We’re enthusiastic about working in crop protection because the safety standards are very stringent and we’re working with partners with tremendous resources and commitment to ensuring product safety. Vive Nano also works with catalysts, specifically on materials that help to improve the air we breathe and water we drink.
For our efforts, Vive Nano has been recognized as one of Canada’s Top 10 companies, as a leading green technology company by Deloitte, as one of the 2009 Green 15™, and by Canadian Business magazine as the winner of Canada’s Clean15 competition. In addition, Vive Nano has received other market recognition including:
· Frost & Sullivan North American Technology of the Year Award – 2010
· Next 10 Emerging Cleantech Leaders Award Winner – 2009
· Ontario Premier’s Cleantech Mission to India
(c) ‘Partnering on projects’ is also mentioned on the website. Could you explain how what you mean by partnering and what kinds of projects and products you have or are currently partnering on?
Vive Nano partners with a range of companies, from small Ontario businesses to Fortune 500 firms. We develop the products in conjunction with our partners, who provide project goals and market access. We are not able to talk about most of our projects, but one of our key projects is to reduce the use of solvents in delivering crop protection products so that the products are more environmentally friendly. We also have smaller projects to develop advanced glass coatings and to clean water.
(d) The website features a description of Vive Nano Product Stewardship where you state: “… prioritization process to ensure product information for products with known toxic effects, physical hazards or potential consumer exposure is provided to our stakeholders in a timely manner.” Could you give some examples of you how provide this information since you sell products such as nano silver, nano cerium oxide, nano zinc oxide, and nano magnetite, all of which, by the way, are subject to a ‘call for information regarding testing procedures’ by the State of California’s Dept. of Toxic Substances Control.
We are members of Responsible Care® and are committed communicating information about our materials to all of our stakeholders, including our employees, our customers, our collaborators and the general public. We make Product Stewardship Sheets for our materials available, which provide a product description, the chemical identity, uses, and any known health or environmental effects or potential for exposure, as well as risk management information.
We recognize that the state of knowledge relating to health and environmental effects of nanotechnology is in its infancy and as a result we are taking a conservative approach with respect to the design and manufacture of our materials. We continually monitor legislative requirements regarding nanomaterials and aim to exceed all current guidelines with respect to occupational health and waste streams, including water and air emissions. Much of the concern surrounding exposure to nanomaterials is regarding aerosols, thus we endeavour to work with our materials in liquid form whenever possible.
As I mentioned at the start, we want to be responsible in what we do for the greater good. We are working with the Canadian National Institute of Nanotechnology in Alberta on a federally funded multi-million dollar project to ensure that all of our products we develop are safe throughout their product lifetime. We are also participating in a McGill University study to look at product safety.
I’m going to shift focus with these next questions:
(e) Vive Nano was featured in an Oct. 27, 2010 guest column written by Hari Venkatacharya on the subject of Canadian technology firms and the Indian market. Is this involvement part of a larger strategic focus on international markets and/or where there specific reasons for focusing on the Indian market?
Cleantech is global, by nature. For several years, we have been working internationally, though mostly focused on developed economies. A few years ago, when developed economies were having issues with the recession, we made a strategic decision to work with a key developing economy and chose India. There was a sound business case and good demand for our products. We also were able to successfully work with Hari to access top level decision makers in that market.
(f) What have you learned from your work in the Indian market?
First, focus is important. India is too vast, so we don’t have an India strategy, but rather a Maharashtra strategy. Second, cost is important. India really forced us to drive down our costs – the economics in India are based on volume, not margin.
We also found it important to put things in writing – as prep or follow-up to phone calls, as we had some significant noise issues, especially with poor quality phone lines. We had a number of times where we would speak to someone on their cellphone in traffic and have difficulty picking out enough words to understand what they meant.
Lastly, we found we needed to be there, in almost constant contact in person. We found that progress came in waves. If you were about to go to India, were there, or had just left, there was progress; otherwise other priorities came to our customers’ minds. We were just one of probably dozens of opportunities from Germany, France, and the US that kept coming to them. SO we needed to go back. And back.
(g) What kind of a market (or markets) is there for your products in Canada?
As I mentioned, a lot of our work is on making better crop protection products. These will support the $150 billion Canadian agriculture industry, which employs one out of every seven Canadians. We anticipate that they will result in significant environmental and waste reduction benefits. We are also working on coatings to improve the energy efficiency of glass and improved catalysts can potentially deliver major advances in water and air purification. Canada has an environmentally-aware population and a desire to be a leader in clean technologies, so we think it’s a great place to be.
(h) Are you working on any new products or partnerships that you can discuss at this point?
One thing that we are very excited about is our anti-reflective glass coating. It can improve light transmission noticeably. It is a very different application from our crop protection work, but uses the same underlying technology.
(i) Is there anything you’d like to add?
Nothing I can think of.
I would like to add just a bit more about Darren Anderson. From Vive Nano’s Management Team page,
Darren Anderson, Ph.D. was the founding President of Vive Nano. Dr. Anderson currently oversees all technical direction at the company, including product development, strategic direction, and intellectual property. He is the author of 4 issued patents, 24 pending applications, 10 refereed papers, and over 40 conference presentations and publications. He earned his Ph.D. in Chemistry from the University of Toronto as an NSERC Doctoral Fellow.
Plus, I want to say Thank You for taking the time to answer my questions in detail that I much appreciate. I look forward to hearing more about Vive Nano in general, about the new glass coating product, and about the product safety projects with Canada’s National Institute of Nanotechnology and with the researchers at McGill soon.
ETA Feb.28.11: I understand from Darren Anderson that Keith Thomas, Vive Nano’s President and CEO answered some of the questions. So, thank you to Keith Thomas. Here’s his biography from Vive Nano’s Management Team web page,
Keith Thomas is a proven entrepreneur and was most recently CEO of Vector Innovations, which was backed by a number of well regarded venture firms and successfully exited. He has led a number of large-scale projects, restructuring companies in 3 countries at New York-based Tandon Capital, managing strategy and operations projects at Booz Allen & Hamilton and completing corporate finance transactions at Citibank in the US and Europe. He is a member of the Young Presidents Organization (YPO) and holds an M.B.A. from Columbia University, an M.A. in Economics and a B.A.Sc. in Engineering from the University of Toronto.