Birth of a new sector: technology start-ups driving burgeoning bio-nano industry

Wednesday, 6 March 2013  Features

New research from Simon Fraser University (SFU), in collaboration with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of New South Wales (UNSW), highlights economic impacts of the intersection of the biotechnology and nanotechnology sectors.

The study shows that the integration of knowledge from the biotech and nanotech spheres has been driven by so-called "De Novo" firms - technology start-ups typically borne of research labs and tightly integrated with universities. The radical innovation at the heart of this emerging space - described as the birth of a new sector - opens up opportunities for new companies at the junction of these two fields.

Dr Martin Bliemel, from the Centre for Innovation & Entrepr​​​eneurship at the Australian School of Business, said: "It was interesting to see that most of the growth of this industry was driven by start-ups, some of which licensed their IP from founders in universities.

Since such start-ups usually require private capital, this suggests that programs like the recent $350 million Innovation Investment Fund by the Australian government can play a significant role in enabling the creation of new industries, like this one," explained Dr Bliemel.

The international research collaboration involved the identification, classification and analysis of over 500 firms active in the emerging global bio-nano sector. The global bio-nano industry includes sub-sectors such as biopharma, drug delivery, diagnostics, bioinformatics and medical devices.

"We have watched the ecosystem emerge in terms of the number and type of firms entering," said Associate Professor Elicia Maine, the study leader from SFU's Beedie School of Business. "This confluence of technology silos in the emerging bio-nano sector is enabling radical innovation, new products and connections that didn't exist before. Some of the things we're talking about are targeted drug delivery, tissue engineering, enhanced medical diagnostics, and enabling new therapeutics."

Dr Bliemel added that "Incumbents may opt for entering the industry by acquiring one of these start-ups, thus also providing an exit for investors in the start-up."

The data shows that bio-nano companies are now emerging not just in technology hotbeds like Silicon Valley but also across the United States, Europe, and Australia.

Dr Bliemel said: "Applying those insights to the Australian context, this suggests that the recently announced Industry Innovation Precincts can hold promise to seeding or supporting geographic foci of new industries. I'm very excited about the next generation of innovation in Australia."