An Indian American accepts the challenge of Nanotechnology

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Mahesh Patel, CEO of ShayoNano

Indian American entrepreneur Mahesh Patel has started a nanotechnology company called ShayoNano in Stafford, Texas and has produced his first 300-pound batch of a nanomaterial which will be used to enhance the efficiency of common paint.

Patel’s idea of creating ShayoNano was conceived in 2007 when an economic development arm of the Singaporean government invited him to relocate to the small island city-state where, with investor funding, he built a lab and spent nine years developing products based on nanotechnology.

“They had good faith in us, and they kept investing money,” Patel told the Huston Chronicle, eventually aiming to open a facility somewhere in the United States.

So alone in a rental car, Patel drove from Austin, Texas to Miami, Florida, meeting with economic development offices along the way in search of a place to settle down finally coming upon Huston, Texas.

He then got a temporary spot downtown in the Houston Technology Center, a startup incubator, in 2015, and moved to a small office in Stafford by the end of that year.

“A little town like Stafford doesn’t get nanotechnology very often,” said Patti Worfe, economic development director for the city of Stafford. “We’re very excited.”

The custom production hardware began arriving in Stafford in May, and the operation came on line late July.

Inside the facility, innumerable pipes and cables connect an array of shimmering pressurized vats which are each linked to a touch screen and can produce up to five tons of product per day.

ShayoNano has a handful of patented products developed in its lab. One material captures carbon emissions; others capture impurities in water, extract beta-carotene from palm oil, absorb oil from water, prevent paper from burning or protect plastic from ultraviolet rays.

The first product off the production line is dubbed SmartHide, a lower-cost substitute for titanium dioxide, a crucial component of paint, which boosts opacity and other qualities and was sold to a small-scale paint manufacturer.

Patel told the Huston Chronicle that larger producers have already expressed interest but that would require a larger batch of product which his facility is unable to provide.

Since ShayoNano moved into its small Stafford office, it has been working with the city to find space for a much larger production facility – 100,000 square feet or larger.

“We continue to look for a substantially bigger building for them,” Worfe said. “If the production on this product really takes off, they could start needing additional space very quickly.”

Patel got started his journey in nanoscience more than two decades ago when, as a second-year chemical engineering student at a university in Mumbai in 1992, he won a prize for making a working prototype of a fuel cell.

Nanotechnology has been under development in its modern form for more than 30 years and although it has been working so far, experts in the field says that it still has a long way to go before it actually hits its prime time.

“I think that the real opportunity for nanotech has not been realized yet,” said Lisa Friedersdorf, director of the National Nanotechnology Coordination Office. “We’re starting to see things moving in that direction, but we certainly are not done yet.”

Houston laboratories have played a crucial role in the early development of nanomaterials and although the city has struggled to nurture a tech scene, the nano still hasn’t taken off as a handful of startup companies have given up due to exhausted investor funding while a few have remained inbetween.

“I don’t know exactly why it hasn’t taken off,” said Nick Tillman, director of energy acceleration at the Houston Technology Center. “It definitely has local promise. That would be something to set Houston apart.”

Decades ago, technology evolved dramatically when scientists learned to engineer on the microscale to produce microchips, so the Nanoscale is a thousand times smaller and it represents a realm where many substances are in atomic or molecular form, by engineering particles on the nanoscale, scientists can design attributes of the bulk material.

“Nanotechnology is waiting for a success story, that would be the kind of story we’ll create in the next years,” said Patel who hopes to succeed in an area where others have failed.