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Midwest nanotechnology whittles away at top states

We are all so barraged by the multitude of news articles these days, whether they come from the Internet, TV, newspapers, trade publications, and even regular mail that we tend to filter out the great majority of news. That is, unless someone or something sensitizes us to a key area or topic. After that sensitizing, we immediately begin to graft on to news regarding that particular subject.

Perhaps because I have had multiple recent discussions with Sean Murdock, executive director of the NanoBusiness Alliance, the national nanotechnology trade association, I have become increasingly sensitized to nanotechnology. Everywhere I go, I now see all kinds of news on this growth area.

With all fairness to the fact that there has been large coverage of this topic in the two Chicago newspapers, the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Sun Times, within the last week or so, it still is amazing that major nano-news has hit prime time coverage:

• Nanosphere, a Chicago-based nano-diagnostics company, which was spun out of Northwestern University's nanotech labs, announced its plans for a $100 million initial public offering (IPO).

• Northwestern University recently announced the acquisition of nanotech star scientist/researcher J. Fraser Stoddart (and his team of 20 researchers) from UCLA.
Both events are huge! First, a $100 million IPO is not common these days, let alone in the Midwest. Surprisingly, if Nanosphere pulls this off (and there is no reason to doubt that they won't), it will only be the second largest life science IPO in the Midwest this year. (Wisconsin-based Tomotherapy's IPO raised $188 million in May).

Second, Northwestern not only brought on board one of the United States' leading nanotechnologists, but his entire team. This is the nanotech equivalent of bringing not only a major sport star to Chicago, but his entire major league team.

Before we start puffing our chests out with pride, the nanotech magazine Small Times, in its July/August edition, released its annual survey of national nanotech rankings by state.

These rankings represented a composite of various nanotech evaluation categories with the following weighting:

• Venture capital (22.5 percent).

• Industry cluster (22.5 percent).

• Research (22.5 percent).

• Innovation (22.5 percent).

• Workforce (10 percent).

The good news is that the Midwest has three states in the top 10 nanotech states: Michigan, Illinois, and Ohio. We also have four states in the top 20 (add Minnesota).

The bad news is that California is far ahead of the pack in the leading position, followed by Massachusetts, and, surprisingly, New Mexico. New York is in fourth place. Both Texas and Maryland are ahead of Illinois.

This study was carried out last year, and perhaps at that point one area that left the Midwest states a bit deficient was the area of venture capital. Depending on when the study was carried out, this should have improved considerably with the financings last year of Nanosphere, NanoInk, Nanotope, Polyera, etc.

Nanosphere's IPO should increase Illinois' standing in this area this year, along with the acquisition of Stoddart from UCLA.

Let's take a look at the rankings:

Leading Nanotech States - 2006/2007

Rank State
1. California
2. Massachusetts
3. New Mexico
4. New York
6. Texas
7. Maryland
9. Pennsylvania
10. OHIO
11. Connecticut
12. New Jersey
13. Virginia
14. Colorado
15. Washington
16. Delaware
17. Arizona
18. Rhode Island
20. North Carolina

Source: Small Times magazine, July/August, 2007

Nano evaluations

I was curious as to why these rankings came out this way, and Sean Murdock of the NanoBusiness Alliance shed some light on this. Some of the states are particularly strong in MEMS (Micro-Electrical-Mechanical Systems), such as Michigan and Pennsylvania. MEMS are the integration of mechanical elements, sensors, actuators, and electronics on a common silicon substrate through microfabrication technology. In essence, this is putting entire systems on a chip, and is revolutionizing many product categories.

As there are different categories of nanotechnology such as nanomaterials, nanobio, etc., it is not clear to me as to which state is strong in a particular category as the Small Times study doesn't get into this detail.

Interestingly, Small Times edition of May/June this year ranks universities around the U.S. with a five-star nano evaluation system.

These stars are awarded in the following categories: Research, education, facilities, and commercialization. Additionally, there were also Peer rankings in the following categories using the same ranking system: Nano Research, Micro Research, Nano Commercialization and Micro Commercialization.

Surprisingly, the University at Albany-SUNY had 5 stars in education and facilities, 4-½ stars in commercialization, and 2-½ stars in research. Another New York University, Cornell also ranked fairly high.

One of the best rankings was attributed to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, which had four stars in research and education, and 4-½ stars in facilities with decent peer rankings.

As would be expected, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology received five stars in almost every Peer category. The University of California-Berkeley was not far behind. Northwestern University received 4-½ stars in nano research and 3-½ stars in micro commercialization.

In the overall rankings by category:

• Research: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign ranked third, with University of Michigan ranking fifth, and University of Minnesota ranking tenth.

• Education: University of Michigan ranked second and UI-UC ranked third.

• Facilities: UIUC ranked second and University of Michigan ranked fourth.

• Commercialization: University of Michigan ranked seventh.

In the Peer rankings:

• Nano Research: Northwestern University ranked second, and UIUC ranked eighth.

• Micro Research: University of Michigan ranked fourth, with UIUC ranking seventh, and Northwestern ranking ninth.

• Nano Commercialization: Northwestern ranked tenth.

• Micro Commercialization; Northwestern ranked fourth, University of Michigan ranked eighth, and UIUC ranked ninth.

It is gratifying to see this independent validation of our Midwest capabilities in this fast-growing and society-impacting technology, although I honestly thought we would have ranked even higher given the numbers of companies that we are spinning out in this sector.

Nevertheless, with the news of the major nano-events in Illinois, I have no doubts that our future rankings will be even higher. Additionally, as I get to personally witness the growth of three Northwestern nanotech companies in the Illinois Science + Technology Park, I am convinced that California's and Massachusetts' lead will be whittled down.

See you soon!

Previous articles by Michael Rosen

Michael Rosen: Where have all the “Searlies” gone? How transplanted employees shape a tech industry

Michael Rosen: Venture capital flows to Midwest life sciences at record rate

Michael Rosen: Nano prominence: Midwest doesn't take back seat to coasts

Michael Rosen: Midwest life science stocks kept sizzling in Q2

Michael Rosen: The Right Brain: A neurological solution to the flattening world

Michael S. Rosen is president of Rosen Bioscience Management, a company that provides CEO services, including financing and business and corporate development to start-up and early-stage life science companies such as Renovar and Immune Cell Therapy. Rosen also is a founder and board member of the Illinois Biotechnology Industry Organization. He can be reached at

This article previously appeared in, and was reprinted with its permission.

Disclosure: Michael Rosen is an employee (executive) at Forest City Enterprises, which owns and operates the Illinois Science + Technology Park.

The opinions expressed herein or statements made in the above column are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Wisconsin Technology Network, LLC.

WTN accepts no legal liability or responsibility for any claims made or opinions expressed herein.

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