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Spring 2001
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Working from that standpoint, they evolved a structure of participation, from those companies willing to spend at least $2 million a year as "founding partners" to small start-ups that might want to take part in any way they can but didn't have the cash or the in-kind contributions to spare. "Depending on how strongly they got involved, we offered them the potential for lab space, for pre-public disclosure of intellectual property, for first right of refusal, and so on," says Heath.

Among the founding partners was Hewlett-Packard, where former UCLA chemistry professor Stan Williams was running the company's quantum-science research group. Williams had been collaborating with Heath for years, and so when the two went to Williams' boss to pitch him on the California NanoSystems Institute, says Williams, he was sold immediately. "Being a founding partner means we get a seat on the board, which means we have influence over the research directions. We get access to facilities; we get access to faculty. We even get our own laboratory facility on campus at UCLA - an incubator lab - where we can literally close the door and work on our proprietary stuff, or we can open the door and invite people in. We can go across the hall and talk to people from UCLA or even other companies. It's a great concept, something we were anxious and eager to do."

In fact, the HP executives were so enamored of the CNSI concept that they went out of their way to help Heath, Hu and their colleagues pitch to other companies.

"We contacted a bunch of other companies and told them what a great deal we thought it was and invited them to participate along with us," Williams says. "And some of them, like Motorola and Dupont, agreed and have bought into it, and others took a wait-and-see attitude. My guess is that eventually they will have to buy in or they will be sorry. There is this whole issue of what some people now call 'coopetition.' In other words, your biggest competitor in one area is often your biggest collaborator in another area. We thought nanoscience is all very pre-competitive so it's to everyone's advantage to be collaborating in some areas, and the NanoSystems Institute gives us a great way to do it."

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