Nanotech's Multidisciplinary Challenge

Pearl Chin, with a Cornell MBA and PhD in materials science, talks about her job helping startups build a business in this burgeoning sector

I'm managing director of Seraphima Ventures, which offers evaluations of nanotechnology startups and consulting services to new companies. We're based all over the world, but I'm headquartered in New York. In addition to the MBA, which I received in 2000 from the S.C. Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell University, I have a PhD in materials science and undergraduate training in chemical engineering. At Seraphima, I lead an international expert team of four directors, five principals, two associates, and five advisory board members.

Nanotechnology is a diverse collection of fields, touching on biology, medicine, materials, computers, manufacturing, physics, and several others. It's a more challenging sector to work in than traditional technologies because nanotech is interdisciplinary and requires that people step outside of the confines of one science discipline.

For instance, a particular nanotechnology for cancer diagnostics and treatment using gold nanoparticles requires someone with understanding in both biochemistry or microbiology and physics and/or electrical engineering. This isn't a common combination or double major.


  The science of nanotechnology isn't entirely new, but it's cutting edge because of the interdisciplinary way that research is done. The challenge is to be able to understand and integrate the multiple disciplines required to make the research breakthroughs and then to optimally develop them into products for the commercial market.

I champion nanotechnology's potential to make the world a better place and determine how best it should be commercialized. Here's a typical outline of my day:

5:00 a.m. -- The buzz from an incoming e-mail to my BlackBerry wakes me. Get up briefly to check if it's something important. If I reply now, I'm up for the rest of the day. But this time, it's back to bed.

7:00 a.m. -- Wake up and check e-mail to see if anybody from Europe or Asia got back to me regarding questions, meetings, and/or scheduling. There's an e-mail from a team member in Cambridge, England, about whether we have any news on a potential consulting gig in Europe.

8:00 a.m. -- Finish answering e-mail. Adjust action items based on any new information gathered this morning and last night.

9:00 a.m. -- Take a phone call from my Silicon Valley partner, who is at the San Jose airport waiting for a flight to San Diego. We discuss the details of an upcoming trip to Taiwan and what's going on in Europe with other partners. The London partner is going on holiday, and we have to schedule accordingly. I let my London partner know I'll be in the United Kingdom in August, when he returns from vacation.

I update my personal assistant, discuss recent events, and brainstorm next steps for some clients.

10:00 a.m. -- Head out for 10:30 business meeting to discuss what Seraphima does and its value proposition.

11:30 a.m. -- BlackBerry buzzed during meeting. Notice an e-mail with a document I've been waiting for. Stop by a Starbucks to download and study it.

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