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Many High Technology Firms rather Signal than actually Do Nanotechnology

M Sc. (Econ.) Nina Granqvist defends her doctoral thesis in the area of organization and management with the title ”Nanotechnology and Nanolabeling – Essays on the Emergence of New Technological Fields” at Helsinki School of Economics on Friday November 23, 2007.

Nanotechnology is forecasted to be among the most significant technologies of the current century, and one of the important megatrends of this decade. Nanotechnology refers to a size scale of one billionth of a meter, and to the new physical phenomena the size scale reveals. It is currently being applied e.g. in sensors, diagnostics, materials and the memories of computers. In her PhD thesis, Granqvist studies the emergence of nanotechnology as a domain of public investment and business activity in Northern Europe and USA. She interviewed some 60 people and analyzed over 200 publications for her research.

The thesis reveals that the emergence of new technologies is enabled by various parallel processes. The roots of nanotechnology are, on the one hand, in the development of science and technology towards ever smaller size scale since the 1950s. On the other hand, the very creation and dissemination of the concept in the American science fiction literature played a role in its wider dissemination. Due to political processes, nanotechnology became established to refer to research and development in the very small size scale. The birth of nanotechnology in Finland was aligned with the global development. However, the form and function it took reflected the local competences and institutions. The Finnish nanotechnology program in 1997-1999 was one of the first nanotechnology programs globally. Launching the program was enabled by the visions and autonomy of experts in the public funding organizations, as well as researchers’ international networks and established competencies in nanotechnology related areas.

Granqvist also investigated how nanotechnology was transferred from research to business. Companies have certain reputational and visibility related benefits from being associated with novel technologies. However, the research shows that companies that are attracted by new technologies signal nanotechnology even though their activities would not reach into that size scale. According to the research, up to half of the companies signaling nanotechnology do not match the widely accepted definitions for the technology. Further, only small part of the business and revenues of most true nanotechnology companies’ business come from these technologies. In addition to this, many true nanotechnology firms do what they have always done, but now under the new nano-label.

According to Granqvist such signaling activity is a central driver of the emergence of all fashionable technologies, where demand for the label exists, but where the participants have an unclear understanding of what the new technology is about. This enables opportunism of companies in the short term. Over a longer period of time the participants begin to understand what the new core technologies are and who develop them. As a consequence, the boundaries of the domain of operation begin to close, which forms the embryo of a new industry. Views on what nanotechnology is, and is not, develop in a similar manner as a result of learning of the involved parties.

More information. The public defense begins at 12.00 at the STORA ENSO room of Chydenia building, address Runeberginkatu 22–24, at Helsinki School of Economics. Professor Michael Lounsbury, PhD, (University of Alberta, School of Business) acts as the opponent and Professor Kari Lilja as kustos. Representatives of media are advised to inquire the study from Marjatta Vuorinen +358 (0)9 4313 8292 of the Department of Marketing and Management. Publication is sold by KY Bookstore in the Helsinki School of Economics main building, address Runeberginkatu 14–16.

Terhi Ollikainen | alfa
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