For a nanotech primer, you’d be hard pressed to find someone more knowledgeable than Steve Jurvetson. He and his firm, Draper Fisher Jurvetson, have invested in more than 20 nanotech, MEMS and novel materials startups, he’s co-chairman of the NanoBusiness Alliance and he regularly speaks and blogs on the topic. But if you’re going to talk to him, be prepared to slow him down every few minutes. When he gets excited, the onetime chip designer talks really fast. And because he’s so well versed in the subject, he tends to sound like a scientist. We took the easy route and did the following Q&A over email.
Q Few new nanotech deals got done last year. Will that change this year?
A Well, DFJ has been quite active with new deals in the past year: Nanostring (molecular barcodes), EoPlex (micro-manufacturing platform), High Power Lithium (nanostructured batteries), Intematix (high throughput materials discovery platform), MediaLario (atomically precise mirrors for EUV lithography), Raydiance (femtosecond pulse lasers) and Theranos (stealth).
Will you actively look for new nano deals this year?
Sure, just as we have for the past five years. Our areas of interest include molecular electronics and interconnect; energy conversion and storage; water purification and clean tech; solid-state lighting, biomimetic approaches; and most importantly, unique ideas that we have not thought of yet. … We believe that nanotech is the next great technology wave, the nexus of scientific innovation that revolutionizes most industries and indirectly affects the fabric of society.
If there were a nanotech time line, where would we be now and when would be the next inflection point?
As an umbrella term for myriad technologies spanning multiple industries, nanotech will eventually disrupt these industries over different time frames, but most are long-term opportunities. Electronics, energy, drug delivery and materials are areas of active nanotech research today. Medicine and bulk manufacturing are future opportunities.
Early Revenue/Today: Tools and bulk materials like powders and composites (several revenue-stage and public companies already exist); 1D chemical and biological sensors; larger MEMS-scale devices.
Medium Term: 2D Nanoelectronics (memory, displays, solar cells); hierarchically structured nano-materials; hybrid bio-nano, efficient energy storage and conversion; passive drug delivery and diagnostics, improved implantable medical devices.
Long Term: 3D Nanoelectronics; nanomedicine, therapeutics, and artificial chromosomes; quantum computers used in small molecule design; machine-phase manufacturing. The safest long-term prediction is that the most important nanotech developments will be something that we could not predict today.
Make a nanotech prediction over any time period that will hold great meaning for venture capitalists.
We will learn more about genetics and the origins of disease in the next 10 years than we have in all of human history. As we race to interpret the now complete map of the human genome, and embark upon deciphering the proteome, the accelerating pace of learning is not only opening doors to the better diagnosis and treatment of disease, it is also a source of inspiration for much more powerful models for computer programming and complex systems development. Just how inspirational are the information systems of biology? If we took your entire genetic code-the entire biological program that resulted in your cells, organs, body and mind-and burned it into a CD, it would be smaller than Microsoft Office.