The Singh Center for Nanotechnology held its first Entrepreneurship and Innovation Open House last week, bringing together Penn faculty, staff, and students with users of the facility from local business and industry.
The Center introduced its Innovation Seed Grant program at the event, an initiative designed to encourage these types of collaborations in making the next generation of nanotechnological products.
Individuals, small groups, and startup companies—whether they are currently Penn-affiliated or not—are encouraged to submit their ideas for nanotech materials, structures, or devices. Winners will receive between $5,000 and $10,000 worth of equipment time and supplies, the exact amount commensurate with their proposal. They will also have the opportunity to present their technology to a panel of venture capitalists at the Singh Center’s User Conference in the fall.
“Nanotechnology is starting to permeate into real product that are affecting people’s lives, so I hope that at least one of you in this audience is going to exercise the Singh Center to create that next ‘million-dollar idea,’” said Mark Allen, scientific director of the Singh Center and the Alfred Fitler Moore Professor in the School of Engineering and Applied Science.
Allen himself is no stranger to the translational aspect of nanotechnology research. His micro-electromechanical work is the basis of several patents and spin-off companies that make implantable sensors for monitoring electrical activity in the heart and brain.
The Singh Center is designed to foster this process on a scale that extends beyond campus. Last year, it received a $5 million National Science Foundation grant to establish a Mid-Atlantic Nanotechnology Hub. With its collection of microscopes and clean-room fabrication equipment—expensive, specialized devices that may not make sense for any one company to own and operate—it has the most comprehensive nanotechnology facilities between Boston and Atlanta.
“We like to think of ourselves as a maker-space for nanotechnology,” Allen said. “Even if you’re not necessarily an expert in fabrication or characterization, if you have a cocktail napkin [idea] that can be turned into a nanotechnology-based widget, there are people here who can help you with that.”
Seed Grant applications are open through Friday, April 15.
“Our goal,” Allen said, “is for all us to work together to help disseminate the advances of nanotechnology into society. It’s coming, ready or not, and we want as many people to be as ready as possible.”