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Nano World Headquarters projected in Pearland

Over 700 Shadow Creek Ranch residents join in Grand Opening launch at Minute Maid Park

Friday, November 28, 2008

Houston Business Journal - by Mary Ann Azevedo

Nanotechnology expert Valerie Moore has been tapped to serve as executive director of a fledgling organization called Nano World Headquarters.

Moore, who was mentored by the famed late nanotechnology pioneer Professor Richard Smalley, was actually hired by local real estate developer Historic Real Estate Inc. to head up the initiative.

The developer has ambitious plans to build a 35-acre facility for the new organization in Pearland as part of a multi-use project dubbed the "Water Lights District."

The Houston-based organization is being created to serve as a center for scientific nanotechnology collaboration and as an accelerator for start-up companies. Moore says the ultimate goal is to be a centralized intellectual hub and a state-of-the-art shared equipment facility.

"We were waiting for the right time and the right place to bring this forward," says Moore. "Houston needs an accelerator with plenty of lab space and shared equipment . This will solidify our claims as one of the nanocapitals of the world."

Dr. Wade Adams, director of the Center for Nanoscale Science and Technology at Rice University, describes himself as a "cheerleader" for the idea.

At first, Adams admits to thinking it was almost presumptuous to create something called the Nano World Headquarters.

"It seemed like an arrogant statement," Adams recalls. "We are not the world headquarters for research in nanotechnology. it's truly worldwide and dispersed. But I look at this as an opportunity to establish leadership in the world while helping the nanotechnology industry achieve goals."

He points out the city already has a bit of a reputation for that as home to the International Council on Nanotechnology, which is based at Rice.

Rice University, he expects, will be "very much involved" in the project but the arrangements of exactly how have yet to be determined.

"It's been discussed at fairly high levels and while there's no formal agreement yet, there is great interest at Rice," Adams says.

Nano attraction

Under the present time line associated with the Water Lights District project, Nano World Headquarters is not expected to be ready until 2011.

David Goswick, executive director of Historic Real Estate, was apparently inspired by Rice professor Smalley'swork and came up with the idea of including such a research center in a multi-use development that could also one day hold restaurants, offices, hotels and residential structures.

Goswick claims there is "significant dirt" being moved at the site now, and the development company has hired two architects, HOK and Matrix Spencer.

In the meantime, newly appointed Executive Director Moore is working to develop partners in the Houston area, including academic institutions, government agencies and private institutions.

Moore says the organization will target start-up companies that are past the phase of needing the help of an incubator such as the Houston Technology Center.

Nano World Headquarters will not be confined to nanotechnology companies, but will work with all types of emerging technology companies serving as a partner to existing organizations such as the Houston Technology Center.

"We see HTC being able to really get Houston startups to a certain distance," says Moore. "We hope to fill that void as a transition for companies once they reach a particular point, such as needing lab space."

For now, Moore is hoping to start reserving lab and office space for future tenants. Down the line, she says, there are hopes for a community education component.

Moore has spent the past seven years researching and promoting nanotechnology in the Houston area. She worked under Smalley while conducting doctoral research at Rice University focused on the application of technology in materials, energy and medicine.

She has, in the past, also worked with the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston, NASA's Johnson Space Center, The Texas Heart Institute, and the Smalley Institute for Nanoscale Science and Technology.

Fred Welch, executive director of the Pearland Economic Development Corp., says the city's hope is that an organization such as the Nano World Headquarters will attract companies that want to be close to such a research area.

"This is a long-term project,"says Welch.

"The organizers have spent some time seriously developing the concept and figuring out what needed to happen,"he adds.

Kelly Kordzik, president of the Austin-based Texas Nanotechnology Initiative, says the main advantage to such a concept is the sharing of "very, very expensive high-tech equipment that is just not commonly found."

Such a feature, combined with lab space, makes the region much more appealing for technology companies, particularly those with a nano-focus considering where to physically locate their headquarters.

Says Kordzik: It's definitely a very good thing for Texas, especially for Houston. This just becomes another reason to start up a company in Houston and another reason to be located in this part of the country, as opposed to somewhere else."

mazevedo@bizjournals.com : 713-395-9657