Australia sees shrinkage in nanotechnology business sector?; Off the deep end: an interview with Cheryl Geisler (part 2 of 3)

There is a new report, Nanotechnology in Australia: Trends, Applications and Collaborative Opportunities, to be released Monday, February 22, 2010, which, apparently, claims that the number of Australian companies in the nanotechnology market has “plummeted.” Dexter Johnson, Nanoclast blog, on the IEEE website wrote the first item I read about this report which is being produced by the Australian Academy of Science and will be launched by the Innovation, Industry, Science and Research Minister, Kim Carr on Monday.

From Nanoclast,

The Australian Academy of Sciences in a soon-to-be-released report indicates that the number of nanotechnology companies in Australia is declining from an estimate of about 80 to around 55, and that the technology is simply not finding its way into commercial products.

According to the report, one of the key obstacles to this commercialization is “often dysfunctional” university intellectual property offices. I have covered this problem of poor tech transfer offices before when discussing a Cientifica report that came out late last year that recommended the following in order to start making money from nanotechnology: “Fire 90% of university tech transfer people and replace them with people who understand how small businesses and science based innovation actually works.”

Cientifica, mentioned in the excerpt from Nanoclast, is a company that’s been mentioned here before. Tim Harper, the principal, writes a blog (TNTlog) and has commented on the forthcoming report. From TNTlog,

My colleague Dexter Johnson (aka the Nanoclast) highlights a forthcoming report about the decline in the number of Australian nanotech companies, but it’s hardly surprising. Before anyone heralds the death of anything consider this:

* The global economy has resulted in a reduction of the number of companies in just about every sector of the economy. High streets where a third of the shops have closed are now common outside London, and everyone from estate agents to Starbucks have been rationalising, downsizing or going bust.

* As I mentioned back in 2001, most nanomaterials companies will go bust, some sooner, some later, but there is almost no way that anyone apart from large diversified chemical and materials companies can create a sustainable business in that sector. Of course if you told your VCs that nanotubes were the new gold you probably got closed down five years ago.

* Nanotech has been subject to a large amount of M&A [mergers and acquisitions] activity, Singular ID being snapped up by Bilicare for example, thereby disappearing from the Singapore register of nanotech companies and joining the Indian pharmaceutical industry.

* Most nanotech companies were start ups, and most start ups don’t survive too long, whatever the sector.

* I can think of plenty of companies making use of nanotechnologies that no one would consider being nanotech companies, so how a nanotech company is defined is also part of the problem.

I can’t believe I’m doing this but I agree with Harper on each and every point he makes in this excerpt. (For contrast, you can read my critique of one of Harper’s reports here in my July 24, 2008 post.) As for the rest of his post, I bow to his superior knowledge of the market reports and hype.

The original story was written by Cheryl Jones for The Australian. I’ve not been able to find a reference to the forthcoming report on  the Australian Academy of Science website.

As Harper points out the economy is global and affects everyone including Simon Fraser University (Vancouver, Burnaby & Surrey, Canada) where I interviewed Cheryl Geisler, Dean of the Faculty of Communication, Art and Technology.

Off the deep end: an interview with Cheryl Geisler (part 2)

Arriving at SFU on the heels of one of the largest economic meltdowns in decades and presiding over a new faculty during what is still considered a shaky economic recovery. Geisler is dealing with budgetary cuts and restraints. “Oh yeah, there were budgetary cuts this year across SFU, it was about 3%. [At the point] I think we’re pretty much flat in terms of the budget over the next three years but since salaries will not be flat that means other non-salary items have to suffer some re-organization.”

When pressed for more information, Geisler noted, “In the first instances you look for things that people are doing that they don’t really care about any more. Obviously, those can go [and that’s what we] more or less did this year. I always think it’s a bad idea to [say] we’ve got to cut, that’s a very demoralizing kind of goal. I’d rather think—ok—what can we create that’s new within the kinds of incentives, resources, and interests that we have. We might not be able to do everything we want but we can make sure that what we’re doing is what we really want to do.”

In looking at what any component of FCAT may want to achieve, it might be useful to cast an eye backward at each component’s history. The School for the Contemporary Arts started as a non credit cluster of courses in 1965 at SFU’s founding. By 1975 the programme had become an academic unit in the Faculty of Interdisciplinary Studies. In 1989 the centre was renamed a school, a name it retains to this day. No mention is made as to membership in any faculty other than interdisciplinary studies. (More details can be found here on their web page or here in the faculty’s wikipedia entry although there doesn’t seem to have been an update noting the school’s new home faculty). NOTE: I received the wikipedia information (never occurred to me to look there) after I posted part 1. Thanks Livleen! The entry also gives information that I’ll use to update contextual details about this interview that I posted on Feb.16.10)

Memory (mine) will have to serve for an abbreviated history of FCAT’s other components.

  • The School of Communication was an outgrowth from the Sociology/Anthropology Dept. It seems to have achieved departmental status by sometime in the late 1970s, presumably in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. At some point in the 1980s, the department of communication became a member of the Faculty of Applied Sciences.
  • The School of Interactive Arts and Technology (SIAT) got its start in the late 1990s as part of the Technical University in Surrey, BC. The university was absorbed by SFU sometime in the early 2000s where it resided in the Faculty of Applied Sciences.
  • The Master’s of Publishing Programme was instituted in the late 1980s and was an outgrowth of the Canadian Centre for Studies in Publishing which, itself, was at one time affiliated with or housed in the Department of Communication and, presumably, in the Faculty of Applied Sciences.
  • The Masters of Digital Media came about as an initiative from the consortium (University of British Columbia, British Columbia Institute of Technology, Emily Carr University of Art + Design) which manages the Great Northern Way Campus facility in Vancouver. The programme was instituted in 2007 and has not been anchored in a faculty.

(If you have more accurate historical or other information, please do let me know.)

The discussion about faculties is not purely academic (pun intended) as there has been an impact for SIAT, at least. “Yes, both schools (Interactive Arts & Technology and Communication) were in the Faculty of Applied Sciences but if you look at the research programmes for most of the [faculty members in Communication] there’s a strong critical analysis of media component which is more in line with the Humanities. Really, the move from Applied Sciences is affecting SIAT more. One of the consequences is that the students who are applying are not as technically literate. SIAT has a mix of Humanities and Art Practice and Science so they need to make sure they maintain and nurture that kind of mix even though there’s always a potential for drift towards design and they’re not [associated as closely] with the Computer Science Department [through their membership] in Applied Sciences anymore.”

I’m moving fast today so may have to make some changes when I review this post later. Tomorrow: part 3 where we discuss access to research, public outreach, and Cheryl Geisler’s ‘dreams’.

Off the deep end: an interview with Cheryl Geisler Introduction, Part 1, Part 3

6 thoughts on “Australia sees shrinkage in nanotechnology business sector?; Off the deep end: an interview with Cheryl Geisler (part 2 of 3)

  1. Pingback: Australia sees shrinkage in nanotechnology business sector?; Off … | australianews

  2. Dexter Johnson

    Hey Frogheart,

    Thanks for the mention and your previous ones as well. I have finally gotten around to bookmarking you. Cheers.

  3. admin

    Hi Dexter! And you are very welcome. hmmm….perhaps I should do some updating of bookmarks and blogrolls of my own…maybe sometime before June. Regards.

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