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Dot of the Iceberg

The challenge, of course, lies in transforming this raw scientific potential into a viable business. That’s where Palo Alto, Calif.-based Quantum Dot comes in. Like any other fledgling technology company, it has to attract financial backing by wowing investors and working out a viable business plan-as well as fending off emerging competition by building up a strong technology portfolio (see sidebar: “Quantum Competition”). But for Quantum Dot the challenges go beyond those for a typical startup. Not only does it want to succeed commercially, it wants to do so by going where few companies have gone before: using nanotechnology (manipulating and building materials on the nanometer scale) as a tool in medicine and biology.

Even in basic research, let alone in the commercial world, the interface of nanotech and biology is largely uncharted territory. Quantum dots have intrigued physical scientists seeking new kinds of electronic and optical devices for more than a decade, but few biological researchers gave them a second thought. To succeed, the startup company has to bring together biotech and nanotech. Adding to the difficulty, most venture capitalists-whose backing these days is critical to almost any startup-have displayed an aversion to anything as esoteric sounding as nanotechnology. They may rush to fund dot-com startups, but put the word “quantum” in front of the word dot and eyes begin to glaze.

Those forming Quantum Dot, however, are betting that the potential of this cutting-edge technology will ultimately make those glazed eyes snap into focus. The company is co-founded by a pair of consummate Silicon Valley insiders, Joel Martin and Bala Manian, who between them have helped launch a half-dozen technology companies in the fields of medical devices and instrumentation. Within Quantum Dot’s first eight months of existence, the entrepreneurial pair had raised $7.5 million in venture funding. CEO and president Martin says getting investors excited is a matter of timing: Catching a technology just as an explosion of scientific advances brings it to the edge of commercial practicality. “You have to have something that will be on the market in the next couple years,” says Martin. “It can’t be so far out that it’s on the bleeding edge.” At the same time, he adds, “it’s important that the technology captures people’s imagination.”

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