Keith Thomas didn’t expect to be asked so many personal questions on his first visit to a large company in India.
The president and CEO of Toronto-based nanotechnology firm Vive Nano was looking for new clients, and he was prepared to talk about how Vive Nano’s nanomaterials can help protect crops or remove contaminants, such as textile dye effluents, from industrial waste water.
But first, he had a 45-minute chat with a staff member who asked him about his life, his wife and family.
“He wanted to take the measure of the man,” Mr. Thomas says.
Vive Nano is now working on two Indian projects, including one with the first company he visited. The privately-held firm employs 18 people, and two thirds of them hold a non-Canadian passport. Its clients include large chemical companies, but in 2008, two years after the company was founded, it seemed prudent to look for other markets, Mr. Thomas says.
Vive Nano wanted to focus on one country, and it picked India. There is an aggressive, entrepreneurial business style there, says Mr. Thomas, and huge interest in novel technology.
Nanomaterials are man-made substances measured in nanometres, a billionth of a metre, the unit researchers use to measure viruses.
Manufacturers are increasingly using nanoparticles in consumer products because their unique properties make tennis racquets stronger, for example, or clothing stain-resistant. But scientists continue to investigate how they affect living organisms, including humans, and they are evaluating them for their potential toxicity and impact on the environment. The company is sensitive to the possibility that people may have concerns about nanotechnology, says Mr. Thomas, and it is part of a federally funded study at the University of Alberta that is testing the toxicity of nanoparticles.
“With any new technology, you have to be open to the positives and the negatives. There are risks, and we have to make sure the risks are managed and we also have to be cautious along the way,” he says.
Vive Nano creates particles that stay within a protective coating. “It is like a ball of yarn stuck around a particle,” Mr. Thomas says.
They can be used to deliver active ingredients for pesticides and herbicides in a way that allows farmers to use smaller amounts of the chemicals. The company’s major clients remain the big chemical companies, but Mr. Thomas says he hopes India will at some point account for 10 to 15 per cent of the company’s business.
Vive Nano nanomaterials can also be used to coat solar panels to make them work better.