TRYON,Nanotech Capital LLC, a nanotechnology intellectual property (IP) management and development company, recently signed an agreement with Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) in Tennessee.

According to Nanotech Capital, it is the first and only agreement ORNL has for the commercialization of nanotechnology research conducted at its facility in Oak Ridge. The agreement calls for the disclosure of research discoveries in the area of nanotechnology to Nanotech followed by a cooperative effort by the two parties to commercialize products for the public benefit.

“Is this a big deal? I would say so!” says Jerry Soderquist, managing director of Nanotech Capital. “We have already looked at about a dozen new discoveries from ORNL in the area of nanotechnology, which, because of a non-disclosure agreement, I cannot talk about. At this point, we are the first and only company to have such an agreement with ORNL in the area of nanotechnology.”

Nanotechnology is a broad term, encompassing research in the life sciences, chemistry, physics and engineering. It refers to scientists’ growing interest in manipulating single atoms and molecules in new ways to create new and ever smaller products. The objective of nanotechnology is to produce nanometric (one billionth of a meter) materials and systems that will revolutionize existing materials for use in medicine, microelectronics, optical devices and in an array of products.

ORNL, which is managed by the University of Tennessee (UT)-Battelle LLC for the Department of Energy, has an ongoing nanotechnology research program, with a large building expansion currently under construction. The facility has a six-year, $1.4 billion dollar development plan, much of which will assist researchers with their studies in the field of nanotechnology.

Five other national laboratories are participating as partners at the Oak Ridge site. They include Argonne National, Brookhaven National, Lawrence Berkeley National, Los Alamos National and Thomas Jefferson National Laboratories.

At the forefront

Launched in January, Nanotech Capital is among the first investment groups dedicated to capitalizing on the emerging nanotechnology industry. Of the four managing partners, Soderquist and Terry Ackerman are based in Tryon, which is the firm’s headquarters, Bob Middleton works out of Stamford, CT, and Jeff Dobson in Knoxville, TN.

Nanotech Capital specializes in investment-banking and assisting inventors and entrepreneurs in the commercialization of patented and proprietary ideas. It is a launching pad for the commercialization of acquired nanotechnology IP and provides management of intellectual assets, which may include assembling an active management team, providing various services and capital.

“Nanotech Capital’s business plan distinguishes the company from typical venture capital companies,” Soderquist says. “Nanotech Capital seeks to make targeted investments into nanotechnology related companies.”

Nanotech Capital serves as the general partner of Nanotechnology Partners, L.P. and has an agreement with The Middleton Group LLC of Stamford to provide investment banking services for companies it creates or controls. The number of strategic partner corporate investors is limited to ten and each is expected to contribute $1,000,000 during round one of investment. Nanotech estimates 10 or more rounds will be conducted during the first three to five years of operation.

Soderquist says Nanotech Capital also selects products, acquires nanotechnology IP, protects ideas and patents and creates development-stage companies. The company assists scientists and entrepreneurs in the process of company formation, he says, by finding key management personnel who will lead a team and scale up the production, marketing and commercialization of nanotechnology-related innovations.

“This is accomplished by establishing a trusting relationship with universities, national laboratories and researchers involved in the creation of nanotechnology-related intellectual property,” Soderquist says. “This will allow Nanotech Capital to have early disclosure of forthcoming discoveries.”

University involvement on the rise

To aid in its endeavors, Nanotech Capital has asked certain individuals to serve on its Scientific Advisory Board. They include Sean Washburn, chair of the curriculum in Applied and Material Sciences at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; Donald W. Brenner, associate professor in the department of Materials Science and Engineering at N.C. State University; and Richard Superfine, associate professor of Physics and Astronomy at UNC-CH.

Last month, UNC-CH announced plans to open a $3 million Triangle National Lithography Center with N.C. State in Raleigh. Its doors on Centennial Campus will be open to businesses and scholars. UNC-CH also unveiled plans for a new Institute for Advanced Materials, Nanoscience and Technology in Chapel Hill, to cost at least $10 million annually. It will house chemists, physicists, computer scientists and biologists streaming to nanoscience.

N.C. State and Duke University in Durham also plan to build new nanoscale labs as well, which can require vibration-proof chambers and highly sensitive equipment. In addition, UNC-Charlotte, the University of South Carolina, Clemson, Georgia Tech and others are also working in the area of nanotechnology, according to Soderquist. He says Nanotech Capital is pursuing further relationships with such schools and other entities like ORNL, while continuing to focus on its other interests and needs.

“We are talking with other national labs and universities,” says Soderquist. “Recently, we have had good meetings (at the) N.C. Biotechnology Center. We are reviewing products that might be the basis of new start up companies and we are also working to secure funding.”

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