Time, patience, and wisdom will reveal that Israel has the real nano-stuff.
‘But yesterday evening it was all black and bare. And now it’s covered with leaves.’

– from Waiting for Godot, by Samuel Beckett

On my rounds recently, I bumped into a colleague, an influential figure among those who are stoking the Israeli nanotech engines. He hadn’t heard from me in a while, he said, and wondered if perhaps I had fallen asleep.

I laughed. Even now, I laugh as I am reminded of Beckett’s marvelous play, Waiting for Godot, wherein a small cast of tramps and gentlemen amble about looking and waiting for a character who in fact never arrives. We see them joking, arguing, sleeping, contemplating suicide, and overall just entertaining one another – ever faithful that the celebrated Mr. Godot will arrive ‘surely tomorrow,’ as his youthful messenger repeatedly vows to them, day after day.

Especially over the last year as an active nano-marketer, I have met some of the most interesting and challenging people of my career: scientists, investors, researchers, brokers, lawyers, CEOs, and those who really defy description. Israel is an excellent stage for such a diverse troupe! After all, our little theater has everything to offer: the latest technological innovations, excellent capital gains, watchful world interest – even opportunities for spiritual growth.

But I must tell you frankly, I have not met Mr. Nanot.

It’s true. Not one person has offered me or anyone else here $100 million to invest in Israeli nanotech development. In fact, most of the people I have encountered were hoping I’d write them a check.

There is this global tendency to build grand nano-castles in the air while awaiting some sort of ground-breaking scientific advancement, or the appearance of some invincible new application, or the magic IPO that will return the stock market to its golden era of growth.

All this in spite of innumerable articles and speeches regarding the infancy of nanoscience and the long-term nature of nano-investment. We keep saying it over and over again: this is not the Internet. You can’t do nanotech in your garage on weekends over a couple of beers with your college friends. (Well, maybe you can, but it must be a very clean garage.)

Consider this: in the last year every major state in North America, and practically every major developed country in the world, has formally declared its intention to become a center for nanoresearch and nanobusiness, in hopes of attracting researchers and investors (if not the day’s headlines). In fact, it’s hard to find any historic human endeavor that has been embraced so broadly as this move to nanotech, even if only in words and hype until now.

So where is Mr. Nanot? What can be delaying his arrival?

The widespread and sometimes passionate public debate on nanotechnology is what some pop culture experts would call an ‘extreme movement’, that is, a phenomenon notable for its intense duality. For example, our current concept for ‘nano’ fits all of these statements, extreme as they are.

Like the rest of the world, we are still working on composing a common language for this emerging toolset called nanotechnology. At this moment, Israel is mainly involved with building bridges – scientific, academic, business, political and otherwise.

Where to collaborate. Israel offers investors, researchers, businessmen and other nanotech stakeholders the world’s most diverse, yet geographically concentrated collection of advanced research and intellectual property, together with Israel’s youthful outlook, our ability to adapt, and our talent for working easily and effectively with people from countless other cultures and sensibilities.

The real problem here is one of diversity. Where do you lead a private investor who wants to invest a cool $10 million into Israeli nanotech? Do you point to one of the handful of companies that are actually selling products based on nanotechnology? Do you make introductions with government and industry representatives, eager to build a nanoscale infrastructure? Or do you provide intellectual property contacts at one of our six impressive institutions for learning and research? In fact, you lead the investor to each of these places, for Israel has them all.

What to collaborate. The Israeli National Nanotechnology Initiative (INNI), a government-appointed steering committee, is encouraging Israeli research and business stakeholders to economize and restrict the focus their activities in nanotech. But facts on the ground show that nanotech stakeholders are busy moving in every possible direction.

What we can already say is that Israel has uniquely strong capabilities and interests to exploit nanotechnology R&D in the following areas:

Water. No country in the world has a stronger motivation to provide a solution to the shortage of clean water than Israel. One practical bridge to this industry in Israel is the upcoming NanoWater 2004 event.

Energy. No country in the world has a stronger motivation to create new sources of clean energy than Israel. Together with environmental and water conservation industries, the value of this market is projected to reach $55 billion by 2010.

Medicine. Israel stands tall among pioneers in the life sciences and currently is a partner in two of the most exciting nanobio R&D programs in Europe. The value of this market is projected to reach $35 billion by 2010.

Materials. When it comes to advanced materials and associated tools, Israel is considered a leading center for innovation. The value of this market is projected to reach $378 billion by 2010.

Defense and Security. Last but not least, even for its small size, Israel’s reputation for innovation and quality in these industries remains unchallenged. The value of this market is projected to reach $286 billion by 2010.

How to collaborate. Israel requires investors who recognize the need for leadership, decisive action, and risk-taking. We may lack commercial infrastructure, such as testing facilities and fabrication plants, but Israel’s impressive R&D, IP and applications development capabilities are worth more than gold.

The going rule for creating successful nanobusiness today – not just in Israel, but the world over – is not to ask ‘where’s the exit?’ but instead ‘where’s the value?’

Thinking about collaboration in the Israeli nanospace? Feel free to contact Bob Rosenbaum for additional guidance. Of course, this duality tends to raise the whole subject of nanotechnology to the level of myth. And while creating and nurturing myths can be entertaining (and even lucrative for some), we would do best to remember that nanotech exists today as a result of the personal and professional commitments of people – ordinary or extraordinary – who have worked methodically to characterize and manipulate the physical world for the last 200 years.

At that time, a largely self-taught British scientist named John Dalton formulated the atomic theory, which introduced the concept of atomic weights, and remains today the foundation for our understanding of modern chemistry and physics. It’s worth noting, by the way, that Dalton was not a chemist but a weatherman.

It is this continuum of brilliant scientific, multidisciplinary research that should be emphasized to investors and students today, and not the promise of some mythical nano future.

If we must contend with extremes and duality, then let’s at least remember a key principle in teachings of the East: forever embedded in the Yin is a little piece of Yang, and visa versa, naturally. What is nanotech? What will nanotech bring to our lives and to our world? The truth is to be found somewhere between the extremes.

The continuum of brilliant research should be emphasized, not some mythical nano future.

Amid all this passion and myth, Israel has remained somewhat aloof. To be sure, from an R&D perspective we are squarely among the nations that are leading the way into this new era, though the sum total of Israel’s national and private investment in the nanospace amounts to a trivial figure in global terms, one that could hardly sustain growth for a small Silicon Valley startup. Mr. Nanot might consider such paltry sums as a sign of poor planning.

But such a conclusion would be incorrect. Though small in global terms, Israel actually contributes a very respectable proportion of its gross domestic product (GDP) to nanotech research. Mr. Nanot would also need to learn about the Israeli ‘bang-for-your-buck’ factor. We know how to squeeze more world-class research out of a dollar than any other country – just ask the US military, one of Israel’s loyal customers.

And this tidy sum is being invested with a huge dose of skepticism, not at all like the relatively unbridled nanotech funding efforts seen in the US, Europe and the Far East. (There are even half-serious remarks circulating about handing out little blue collection boxes for nanotech, like those which brought so many dimes and nickels to the Jewish National Fund in the 20th century.) Mr. Nanot might interpret such skepticism as a sign of self-doubt over Israeli capabilities and our future in the nanospace.

Skepticism is a national sport in Israel. We are the toughest skeptics you’ll ever meet.But again, this conclusion would be incorrect. Where an American investor might get carried away by all the hype and potential of a nanotech-based product, an Israeli simply shrugs and asks who will pay to advertise a product that doesn’t exist yet.

Such an attitude often makes us our own worst enemies, especially when a busload of venture capitalists arrives from California to assess an Israeli firm’s marketability. When the Israeli CEO starts a very loud argument with the lead VC (who sponsored the trip in the first place and, let’s face it, might even be Mr. Nanot himself), well, it’s not the pretty picture that investors like to see.

So, with precious little local R&D funding, and little or no talent for product marketing, what can Israel possibly do to stay in the nanotech game, a game comprised of R&D and marketing?

First, let’s not wait for Mr. Nanot.

Israel can and should concentrate on what even our toughest foreign investors (companies like Intel, IBM and Motorola) agree Israel does best in high tech, namely, collaboration.

Collaboration is a prerequisite to success in nanotech. And we’re good at it. Even with our limited resources, successful collaboration has brought Israel to the forefront of high tech and continues to help us maintain the high calibre of our technological knowledge and innovation.

Collaboration is a prerequisite to success in nanotech. And we’re good at it. Far from being a visionary, I am only a strategic marketing consultant for Israeli high tech, at best only one of Beckett’s more humble players. But having already cautioned against unreal expectations and mythology, I will tell you: we’ve got the real nano-stuff here in Israel.

We may not be the largest or first or best-funded of nanotech centers, but Israel most definitely has the researchers, the innovators and the global business leaders to profit from nanotech commercialization.

Whenever Mr. Nanot does arrive, very few analysts would be surprised to see him land in Israel.

(Reprinted with permission from Nanotech Advantage Israel, a newsletter published by the Small Advantage consultancy to promote nanotechnology as a key industry enabler in Israel.)