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The Other IPO

From the editor

I know, if you hear any more about a particular Internet search-engine company going public, you’ll likely find yourself Googling “quick remedies migraine.” A few insiders get filthy rich. A couple of computer science grad students clever enough to turn a research project into a company become Silicon Valley’s newest rock stars. And venture capitalists lucky enough to jump in early gain status as technology pundits. It’s clever technology, but when all is said and done, it’s hardly earth-changing stuff.

But there is a technology IPO in the works that you should keep an eye on. As you will read on page 29 (in one of the magazine’s new departments-but more on that later), Nanosys, a startup in Palo Alto, CA, has filed papers with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission to become the first significant company born of the recent advances in nanoscience to go public. And this is earth-changing stuff: Nanosys is creating nanoelectronics that could make computers and displays unimaginably fast and efficient. Even more exciting, as this month’s cover story explains, Nanosys and a number of other companies are exploiting nanotechnology to make new types of solar cells that could make energy cheap and abundant. Nanosys has plenty of competition in the area of nano solar cells, but it has clearly spotted an application where nanotech can make a huge difference.

Unlike that other IPO, this one is unlikely to make anyone an instant billionaire. Still, Nanosys’s IPO-if and when it happens-will be a milestone in the maturation of the often hyped but nevertheless promising field of nanotech. Nanosys readily admits it is still at least several years from having commercial products. But the history of technology shows the importance of patience. Consider the birth of the biotech industry. Genentech, which is now a $3.3 billion company, helped launch that sector with its IPO in 1980, five years before marketing an initial product.

So what will Nanosys’s IPO say about the immediate prospects of nanotech? Maybe not much. An initial public offering should not be confused with nanotech’s public debut. That’s already happening. And it will take years-and much patience and perseverance-for the new technology to fully become a part of our lives. But Nanosys’s IPO will send a signal to other promising startups in the field: it’s time to move forward on that difficult challenge.

This issue marks the debut of three new departments dedicated to the latest news in information technology, biotech, and nanotech. These topics have been at the core of Technology Review’s coverage for several years, so it is only fitting that each gain its own distinct place in the pages of the magazine.

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