Canada's nanotechnology sector is about to get a leg up on its competition.
With nanotechnology - atom-by-atom design and fabrication of tiny structures and currently incorporated into some 300 different consumer products - predicted to be a US$1-trillion industry by the year 2020, a new $11.5-million Edmonton-based Alberta Centre for Advanced Micro-Nano-Technologies Products (ACAMP), is poised to change the landscape in Canada's favour.
ACAMP, with a mandate to help entrepreneurs take their products from the research labs and move them into the marketplace, is also being hailed as a nanotechnology first in North America.
"ACAMP means a new way to commercialize and productize efficiently. It means a whole new way of taking products to market," says ACAMP CEO Ken Brizel, who has more than 20 years experience in managing high-technology organizations and product development, including the role of director of strategic marketing for AT&T/Lucent Microelectronics.
|Courtesy of Alberta Advanced Education and Technology|
| Federal Minister of Western Economic Diversification Rona Ambrose, right, and Alberta Minister of Advanced Education and Technology Doug Horner, to her right, view nano-products at ACAMP facility.|
"(Ultimately), it means higher paying jobs in the nanotechnology and microelectronics industry, and it brings to Canada a centre to commercialize and productize that will definitely give it an advantage over the rest of the world."
Locating in Edmonton's Research Park made strategic sense, officials say, in part due to the Edmonton-based National Institute of Nanotechnology (NINT), a world-class nanotechnology research centre that is a partnership of the Alberta government, the National Research Council of Canada and the University of Alberta.
The centre also fits in with Alberta's $130-million nanotech strategy announced in May 2007 to position itself as a nanotech leader. The province aims to capture two per cent of the world's nanotechnology market by the year 2020, equalling $20 billion in annual commercial activity.
"Alberta's global reputation for nanotechnology research just became enhanced, as we will now be recognized as a place for putting that technology on the store shelves and into peoples' lives," Doug Horner, Alberta's minister of advanced education and technology, said in a statement.
"This new centre will give entrepreneurs a place to turn ideas into viable, market-ready products."
But it's not just Alberta that will be the centre's focus, even though it is already scouting for a Calgary location to compliment the Edmonton operation.
"The number of companies we're dealing with now is 12 - a lot of those are early-stage companies that came to us before we announced (our opening)," says Brizel. "Now that we've announced, we're getting lots of phone calls and emails from companies that want to work with ACAMP within Alberta and outside, from Vancouver, from Montreal; we've had enquires from all over."
He adds that there are also nanotech hubs in B.C., Ontario and Quebec.
The project has been funded with $8 million from the Alberta government and $3.5 million from Rona Ambrose, the federal minister responsible for Western Economic Diversification Canada.
The centre will host three full-time staff, three consultants and some co-op students.
ACAMP will primarily assist companies in Western Canada with marketing, product development, and packaging and assembly. It will work closely with the U of A's Micro and NanoFabrication Facility, the University of Calgary's Advanced Microsystems Integration Facility and NINT.
ACAMP is a welcome addition, says NINT director general Nils Petersen.
"It's another piece of the puzzle that is essential. It strengthens the whole prospect of Alberta taking advantage of nanotechnology in general," Petersen says. "It's a key component to creating and growing an industrial sector. I'm also sure it will attract interest from global players, as there are not a lot of these types of facilities around."
Edmonton-based i-LOC, a U of A spinoff in operation for a little more than a year, is already working with ACAMP. Its technology is designed to make disease detection and disease monitoring faster and less expensive, as well as making the practice of pharmacogenomic (personalized and customized) medicine more convenient.
i-LOC's handheld devices and micro-fluidic chips are expected to deliver results in less than one hour, as opposed to 24 to 48 hours with existing equipment. Testing is scheduled for October and the company aims to get the product to market within the next two years.
"ACAMP is bringing in an experience base and a contact network we wouldn't otherwise have," says David Alton, i-LOC's vice-president of partnerships.
"(It) will hopefully help with the scaleup (of production of the device and the micro-fluidic chips). How do you go to a larger scale of production and also how do we connect with the final customer? How do we ensure this is what the customer wants? They're going to help us make those linkages to ultimately convert the prototype into a product in the market."
Overall, ACAMP will identify commercial market opportunities in global markets, as well as working with start-up and established technology companies to coordinate product packaging and assembly.
(Laura Severs can be reached at email@example.com)