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Funding of Innovative Startups

A 300-gigabyte, holographic storage device based on polymers, a molecule-tagging technology, and more

Company Spotlight:
InPhase Technologies

In the storage sector, InPhase Technologies, which was founded in December 2000 as a spinout of research done at Bell Labs, expects to become one of the first companies to bring holographic data storage to market. The company introduced a prototype of a holographic storage drive earlier this year.

In the deal recently announced, Bayer MaterialScience has agreed to a joint development deal with InPhase. Bayer MaterialScience, which is part of German chemical and pharmaceutical giant Bayer, will invest $5 million in the startup. The two companies say that by 2006 they will introduce both a recording and reading device and a holographic data-storage medium, based on polymers made by Bayer MaterialScience, with a capacity of 300 gigabytes. Bayer MaterialScience is one of the world’s largest producers of polymers, including materials used in CDs and DVDs.

Conventional optical storage devices, such as DVDs or CDs, record one bit of data at a time. But holographic drives can read or write a million bits at once, encoded as the interference pattern of two intersecting laser beams. InPhase promises two gigabytes of data on a chip the size of a postage stamp, or 20 gigabytes on one the size of a credit card. A 300-gigabyte disc will offer 50 times the storage capacity of a common DVD and 460 times that of a CD.

InPhase and Bayer MaterialScience say they are also coöperating to research new types of specialty polymers that will make possible discs with a capacity of up to 1.6 terabytes – equivalent to the content of about four million books or about 1.6 million high-resolution photographs. Such discs could be available by 2009.

Venture capitalists salivate over enormous market opportunities even when they’re accompanied by enormous challenges. So it’s no wonder that they’ve recently invested in NanoString’s molecule-tagging technology. According to NanoString CEO H. Perry Fell, the company’s first market will be gene expression analysis, a billion-dollar business.

NanoString recently announced new funding of $3.8 million; an earlier round of financing, raising $4.3 million, was completed last August.

“We’re tagging, identifying, and counting individual molecules,” says Fell of his company’s technology, which places a kind of bar code on molecules. Eventually, the technology could be used in a wide variety of biological assays, and in applications such as clinical diagnostics, forensics, and agriculture.

NanoString’s chief scientist, Krassen Dimitrov, invented the company’s core technology in 2000 while at the Institute for Systems Biology in Seattle. There he worked with Leroy Hood, a biotech pioneer and inventor of the automated DNA sequencer, among other biomedical tools. Hood now heads NanoString’s scientific-advisory board.

NanoString has an exclusive license from the Institute for Systems Biology for Dimitrov’s technology. The company says the technology is faster, cheaper, and 100,000 times more sensitive than existing DNA microarrays, which use DNA probes to test for the presence of particular biomolecules in solution.

But don’t expect anything from NanoString too soon. The company won’t even have a working prototype ready until the summer of 2006.