COVER SIDEBAR: Wary Wall Street

Private investors remain big-time backers of nanotechnology, but public markets have been less receptive. Wall Street snubbed the single VC-backed nano company that went public last year. Luna Innovations (Nasdaq: LUNA), a developer of carbon nanomaterials, planned to offer in the range of $11 to $13 per share, but it had to hack its price to $6 to make the deal happen in June. As of mid-January, Luna’s shares were going for $4.25.

Indexes that track public companies with extensive nanotechnology activities are nothing to write home about. The 3-year-old Nanotechnology Index created by brokerage firm Punk, Ziegel & Co. hasn’t been in the black since it entered negative territory on April 29, 2004. As of Jan. 19, the index was down 39% from its inception.

The Merrill Lynch Nanotech Index has turned up recently. After hitting a 52-week low of 159 in October, it bounced back to 196 as of Jan. 18. The index peaked in early 2004 just below 300.

Wall Street has also been relatively kind to Harris & Harris, the publicly traded venture firm that changed its ticker symbol to TINY in 2002 to reflect its passion for nanotechnology and microsystems. Its shares were trading for about $11 apiece in mid-January, well short of the $29.63 high they hit in 2000, but well above the $1.71 they hit in September 2001.

Better luck abroad

Across the pond, nano-companies have fared a bit better on public markets.

Nanogate AG, a German developer of nanotechnology-based coatings and other materials, went public on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange in October. Its shares have hovered since in a range close their first-day closing price.

ItN Nanovation, a Saarbrücken, Germany-based developer of nanoparticles for coatings, catalysts, and filtration systems, went public in July, also on the Frankfurt exchange. Shares have neither soared nor fallen precipitously from their offer price.

On London’s AIM, stock in nanomaterials maker Oxonica still trades above its 2005 offer price. —Joanna Glasner