Cutting-edge technologies create opportunities: panelists

Attendees at a recent conference showcased upcoming applications

Emerging technologies, which can enable the creation of new products and services, can also disrupt existing markets and create new ones, according to participants at a panel discussion at the recent TIECon East 2007 conference in Boston.

“If you’re looking for new opportunities for starting a new company, emerging technologies are important because as they take hold, they create very big disruptions, and with those disruptions there are a lot of opportunities,” said Leon Sandler, moderator and executive director of the Deshpande Centre for Technological Innovation at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “The new technology is sort of like a fire that rages through a forest destroying all the old trees, but it clears the way for growth, and entrepreneurs bubble up after the fire and start up these new companies,” he told the audience.

Sandler said cars, PCs, the internet and cellphones have enabled people to do things they have never done before, but they have also created huge disruptions in supply chains, markets and distribution. As a consequence, he said, entrepreneurs looked for opportunities and created thousands of new businesses. So the question, according to Sandler, is how do you go about finding all these business opportunities?

Over the next decade or two, there will be a revolution of sorts in energy and energy consumption, particularly in transportation, said Dave Vieau, chief executive of A123 Systems, which makes advanced lithium ion technology batteries.

“There are opportunities coming down the road managing the maintenance and the installation and distribution of large power systems on a nationwide basis,” Vieau said.

Entrepreneurs will also find opportunities in solar energy, wind energy and biofuels, especially in the transportation industry, he noted.

“We see the same problems. How are these systems going to be installed, how are they going to be deployed, how are they going to be maintained, how are we going to communicate?” he said.

Another emerging technology is the femtocell, a technology that will improve in-home mobile coverage, allowing carriers to deliver enhanced IP services to mobile phone customers, according to Asa Kalvade, co-founder and chief technology officer at mobile services provider Tatara Systems.

A femtocell is a small cellular base station that can be used in homes or small business offices. Kalvade said the femtocell connects to the service provider’s network via a broadband connection such as DSL or a cable modem and allows service providers to extend service coverage inside a home or office without the need for expensive cellular towers. The femtocell, sometimes called a home base station, can also route mobile phone traffic through an IP network.

Amir Alexander Hasson, founder of United Villages, said his company has developed technology that wirelessly connects remote villages in rural India to the internet using wi-fi.

People in isolated villages can buy prepaid cards with a phone number and email address assigned to them to write emails or record phone messages and then save this information at computer kiosks installed in schools and community halls. A wireless network called DakNet, which uses buses, motorcycles and trucks with short-range wi-fi antennas as mobile access points, automatically picks up and delivers the stored messages and data to cities all over India with internet connectivity, Hasson said.

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