Here’s another example of what makes this place so dynamic. Stanford scientist, KJ Cho, developed a great nanotechnology method, but didn’t know how to make a business out of it. He meets a veteran like Bill Miller, who helps him throw a business plan together — and within 18 months, the new company, Nanostellar, has gotten $3 million in venture backing and already cranked out a prototype for a new catalytic converter that aims to undercut prices of existing models, and help save the environment too. Worst case, it may end up one of the nine of ten start-ups that eventually fail — but hey, better the idea is given a chance to fly than to let it die in the labs.

Posted by Matt Marshall on January 19, 2005 08:07 AM

(from SiliconBeat: Silicon Valley’s engine chugs on)

Nanostellar, Enabling Innovation

Dr. William Miller (Chairman, Founder)
Dr. Miller is a Herbert Hoover Professor of Public and Private Management and Computer Science Emeritus and he was Vice President and Provost of Stanford University. He is currently serve as Chairman of the Board at Borland Software Corporation. He is also President and CEO Emeritus of SRI International. He has served on the board of directors of several major companies such as National Science Foundation, Wells Fargo Bank, Networks, and Varian Associates. Dr. Miller also played a role in the founding of the first Mayfield Fund as a special limited partner and advisor to the general partners. He received a Ph.D. in Physics from Purdue University. | 01/19/2005 | Cleaning up cars at atomic level
By Matt Marshall, Mercury News

When Stanford University scientist KJ Cho developed a method to study the qualities of materials at the level of about 30,000 atoms, he had no idea it could help clean up the environment.

Semiconductor companies such as Texas Instruments and Intel used his modeling software to select materials that would let them build chips smaller and smaller. Specifically, Cho’s method was crucial to letting those companies select the right “high-K dielectric” material needed to insulate the semiconductor’s data from its power lines, helping keep electrons from going where they shouldn’t.

But that niche wasn’t big enough to build a business out of, so Cho searched for a better way to put his method to use.

In a brainstorming session in 2003, he and two others — Michael Pak, an engineer who had recently run a DSL company, and Bill Miller, a physicist and former provost of Stanford University — stumbled onto a good idea.

Cho’s method could help find low-cost materials to replace the highly expensive platinum and palladium coatings on catalytic converters.

Catalytic converters facilitate chemical reactions that convert automotive exhaust pollutants such as carbon monoxide into normal atmospheric gases such as nitrogen, carbon dioxide and water.

By introducing cheaper nanomaterials of similar or even superior emission-reducing qualities to platinum, they could reduce the cost of a catalytic converter by 30 percent — the devices average $100 to $300 even for cheaper cars — and help the environment.

In November 2003, Menlo Park’s Nanostellar was born — with Cho’s collaborator, Jonathan Woo, joining in as a founder, and Deepak Srivastava, a NASA scientist, as a scientific adviser.

The trick was to take Cho’s modeling technique and find an efficient way of manufacturing the desired materials.

They moved quickly. By April 2004, the group already was experimenting with products in their lab. By June, they had attracted $3 million, with venture capital firm 3i as lead investor. And by December, Nanostellar delivered its first two prototypes to automobile manufacturers for testing.

Pak, who is chief executive, said one automaker is planning to use Nanostellar’s material for its converters as early as the fourth quarter of this year.

Meantime, the company has 20 full-time employees and is operating off a $1.5 million bridge loan. Cho and his colleagues plan to raise a bigger round of venture capital shortly, but declined to talk about the details.

“Pollution is a huge problem,” Pak said, “and government regulations are getting stricter every year. . . . This is a great application to demonstrate the power of nanotechnology.”

They aim to produce the nanomaterials for half the cost of platinum, which generally makes up about 65 percent of the total cost of a catalytic converter.

After solving the platinum-replacement challenge, Nanostellar plans to move to step two: finding even lower-cost materials that will help improve on platinum’s emissions-reducing qualities by reducing the amount of nitrous oxides still not tackled by catalytic converters.