Dissecting a Winning Entrepreneurial Pitch: Nano Assembly (Low-Cost & High-Quality Quantum Dots) Analysis

This article is the third in my series on How KAUST’s Latest Seed Fund Winners Are Shaping the Future of Saudi Arabia. As explained in the first post, 4 entrepreneurial teams won financing from the KAUST Seed Fund in December of 2013, and since I had the honor of hearing each team pitch at the Seed Fund Gala, I would like to share my perspective on these pitches.

Earlier this week, I analyzed the pitch presented by Falcon Viz, creators of a new aerial scanning and modeling system. In this post, I will take a look at the pitch that a team named Nano Assembly presented. The Nano Assembly team has discovered a method for creating quantum dots, which are semiconductor particles up to 10 nanometers in size, of high quality at a lower price than competitors offer.

Image courtesy of King Abdullah University of Science and Technology

Image courtesy of King Abdullah University of Science and Technology

The Problem

Quantum dots are expensive enough to limit their otherwise broad applicability.

The standard way to make these semiconductor particles is to heat a solution to a high temperature in a small flask and inject a special agent. However, the solution will cool down naturally, and manual operation cannot maintain the high temperature needed for efficient production.

One can scale production of quantum dots up by using a larger flask, but this does not produce quality results. One can also use a continuous-flow reactor to benefit from higher consistency and automatic operation, as well as production of quantum dots in different sizes, but this still does not produce high-quality quantum dots.

The Solution

The Nano Assembly team has found a new method for producing quantum dots consistently and at a significantly lower price than competitors.

How the Product Works

The optical and electrical properties of quantum dots depend on their size and type. Different sizes emit different colors and exhibit a different absorption spectrum. Quantum dots must be produced according to careful standards.

The Technology
Nano Assembly’s dual-stage servo control method allows the production of quantum dots without the broad peaks and troughs that come from other methods. The lower the absorption peak, the higher the quality of the quantum dots.

Where It Fits into the Market
The quantum dots produced by Nano Assembly can be used anywhere that more expensively-produced quantum dots are utilized, allowing competing offerings to be replaced.

Patent Status
The team has already filed for a patent and published their work in a high-impact journal.

Benefits to Saudi Economy
These “low-cost and high quality quantum dots” could allow tech products already popular in Saudi Arabia, such as mobile phones, to include more efficient displays while remaining inexpensive. The team’s affordable quantum dots could also allow more people access to high-quality medical imaging, and improve solar cell technology to allow effective harvest of one of Saudi Arabia’s greatest natural resources: sunlight.

Usages

In part due to their ability to produce a rainbow of bright colors efficiently, quantum dots are used in display technologies. Since quantum dots are so tiny, they can also move anywhere in the human body, making them useful in the field of medical imaging as replacements for fluorescence-based biosensors that use organic dyes. Quantum dots can also be used as the absorbing photovoltaic material in solar cells.

Features and Benefits of the Product

  • High quality relative to competitors’ quantum dots
  • Low cost relative to competitors’ quantum dots

Market

Since quantum dots are used to make other products, Nano Assembly would be operating in the business-to-business market, although applications in fields like solar power also leave the door open for business-to-government sales.

Competitive Landscape

Current methods for producing quantum dots include high-temperature dual injection synthesis, molecular seeding, and a variation of the high-temperature dual injection method that incorporates a continuous flow system.

Team

Names and Profiles of Team Members

Credentials
Dr. Pan has earned both a Bachelor of Science and Master of Science from Anhui Polytechnic University, along with a Ph.D. in Chemistry from the University of Science and Technology of China. He is now participating in a post-doctoral fellowship at KAUST. Within the Nano Assembly team, Dr. Pan is in charge of production.

El-Ballouli holds a Bachelor of Science in Chemistry and a Master of Science in Organic Chemistry from the American University of Beirut. She is currently a Ph.D. student at KAUST. Her primary area of interest is continuous-flow synthesis and size separation of quantum dots for assembly in solar cells. El-Ballouli is in charge of product testing for the team.

Dr. Bakr has earned a Bachelor of Science in Materials Science and Engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), as well as both a Master of Science and Ph.D. in Applied Physics from Harvard University. He is currently an Assistant Professor of Materials Science and Engineering, and Principal Investigator at KAUST. Dr. Bakr acts as scientific adviser to the Nano Assembly team.

Dr. Sargent holds a Bachelor of Science in Engineering Physics from Queen’s University, along with a Ph.D. in Electrical and Computer Engineering (Photonics) from the University of Toronto. He is the Vice Dean of Research for the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering, a Professor in the Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering (ECE), and a KAUST Investigator. Dr. Sargent is the technique and business adviser for the team.

Timeline

Nano Assembly has already begun the process of incorporating their company. Their immediate task is to set up the production line that they have prepared, test it, and scale it up. They are expecting significant annual growth through 2017.

Big-Picture Impact on the Saudi Economy

The availability of high-quality quantum dots at a low price could help more tech-savvy companies and entrepreneurs enter the electronics, solar power, and medical imaging fields, among others. It could also help existing companies produce more cost-effective offerings within these fields. Either way, the end result would be a more technologically advanced and competitive Saudi Arabia.

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