The effort to build nanobiotechnology into an economic driver for the state of North Carolina is now steered by a former entrepreneur who turned around New York’s economic fortunes nearly 20 years ago.

As executive director of the Center of Innovation for Nanobiotechnology, or COIN, Joe Magno is now looking to North Carolina’s past – 2009. That’s the year that COIN was founded with funding from the North Carolina Biotechnology Center. COIN’s charter states that the organization would support nanobiotechnology and nanomedicine. The “old COIN” strayed from those objectives and lost relevance with North Carolina’s nanobio companies, Magno told WRALTechWire.

“These smaller companies have a 90 percent failure rate,” Magno said. “They fail because they didn’t understand what intellectual property was, they didn’t understand how to go buy insurance. They didn’t understand how to choose a lawyer properly. All of these things are foundational. That was never done with the old COIN, never.”

Magno, who earlier in his life founded, built, turned around and sold companies, was asked in 1995 by then New York Governor George Pataki to run an economic development plan for the state. Magno said that the nanotechnology growth plan of New York was his plan. Now he has to lead a new plan for North Carolina. Magno, who has held positions in New York government and academia, moved to North Carolina in 2009.

Practicality to small and mid-sized nanobio companies is where the new COIN will distinguish itself from the earlier incarnation of the organization, Magno said. COIN has always had events covering topical matters and showcasing North Carolina nanobio companies, but Magno says those events were not practical for entrepreneurs. COIN will continue to have events but they will be structured and focused on practical issues for nanobio entrepreneurs, such as how to buy insurance for a nanobio company and how to discuss legal matters related to the industry.

Many of the COIN changes happened over the summer. Magno succeeded former COIN executive director Griff Kundahl. Besides a leadership change, the organization relocated its office from Durham to the Gateway University Research Park in Greensboro, where the Joint School for Nanoscience and Nanoengineering is located.

COIN’s board has also been trimmed from four members down to four. Magno said the old board was too big and some its members were not invested in COIN. The board members are Jim Ryan, founding dean of the Joint School; John Hardin, executive director of the North Carolina Board of Science & Technology; Rob Burns, senior vice president of Harris and Harris Group, a firm that invests in nanotechnology; and John Merrill, executive director of the Gateway University Research Park. Magno said that all of the board members work in nanobiotechnology in some fashion and are focused the nanobio mission outlined in COIN’s charter.

COIN was established under a North Carolina Biotechnology Center grant program and like the other “Centers of Innovation” that the program has formed for medical devices and marine biotechnology, COIN was intended to become self-sustaining. COIN, which had previously brought in money through sponsorships from large companies, will now be a membership-based organization. The North Carolina Biotechnology Center in August announced a $350,000 grant to support COIN’s continued operations. But Magno says that if COIN can fulfill its mission of supporting North Carolina nanobio companies, those companies will support COIN.

COIN offers a variety of membership plans. A startup with less than $1 million in revenue can join for three months for $49; large businesses with $50 million or more in revenue are charged a $249 rate per quarter. Magno said that if companies don’t find value in COIN in three months, they should cancel.

“If we don’t give value for them, we shouldn’t be in business,” he said.