Invest With the CIA

I think the time is now right to consider an investment in Harris & Harris (Nasdaq: TINY  ) . Let me explain.

This venture capital firm (and a Motley Fool Rule Breakers recommendation) specializing in nanotechnology and microsystems announced last week that it had priced its secondary public offering of 3 million shares at $11.25 per stub. The offering, which is expected to close today, will raise an estimated $32 million.

Much as I had predicted a few weeks ago, the stock floated lower over the first part of August in anticipation of the offering but has now stabilized near management's asking price.

Capital idea
At its current price, the stock represents a good opportunity for the more risk-tolerant investor. Not only does Harris & Harris have the $32 million in fresh capital to invest in promising new nanotechnology start-ups, but it can also use some of this money to fund additional financing rounds for the handful of its portfolio companies that are moving forward with commercialization plans.

I have long been very fond of Harris & Harris' investments in Molecular Imprints, Nanomix, Nantero, and Nanosys, and I think these four companies are closest to earning a healthy return on their investments. Longer-term, I remain intrigued by the prospects for Cambrios and Zia Laser.

CIAgoes nano
To understand why this remains an attractive company, I encourage you to begin by reading the article I wrote about its investment in Nanomix earlier this spring. Of course, Nanomix is just the tip of the iceberg, because there are a slew of other interesting developments in the works.

For instance, just yesterday, Nanosys reported that it had signed an agreement expanding its collaboration with In-Q-Tel, a private, independent, not-for-profit venture group funded by the Central Intelligence Agency. Essentially, In-Q-Tel is the CIA's in-house venture capital group, and its mission is to identify and invest in companies developing cutting-edge technologies that can bolster the United States' security interests.

Normally, I am not a fan of government types getting involved in things that are better left to the private sector -- like venture capital. Yet in the case of In-Q-Tel, I have opted to set aside my bias.

There are two reasons. First, based on many of its other investments, the group's management team seems to know what it is doing. Second, given that national security is at stake and the group has a limited budget, I believe In-Q-Tel is sufficiently motivated to perform its due diligence and is investing in only those private start-ups that offer real promise in enhancing our security.

Nanosys is one of these companies. In-Q-Tel has placed a bet on the firm because, among other things, the CIA believes its high-performance thin-film electronics can help develop specialized antennas. Specifically, the group is interested in how Nanosys' technology can help develop a more powerful, reliable, and energy-efficient phased-array antenna.

If successful, the antennas would not only make for better wireless connections for laptops, PDAs, and cell phones, they could also become one of the underlying -- and enabling -- technologies that facilitate the adoption of low-cost radio frequency identification (RFID).

I suspect that the CIA is most interested in the technology because of how it might help with the detection of biological or chemical agents as well as help keep our ports and mass transportation systems safe. But the commercial opportunity for this technology rests with the very likely possibility that Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT  ) , Target (NYSE: TGT  ) , and Procter & Gamble (NYSE: PG  ) , among many others, will soon opt to employ a massive number of RFID tags to better track inventory and manage logistics systems.

Tiny train
If Nanosys (which we average investors can invest in only through shares of Harris & Harris) can not only jump on the RFID train but also help push it down the track, the company and its stock could be in for a nice ride.

So while I am sure the threats to our national security that Nanosys' technology seeks to alleviate may spook some people, the fact that our nation's in-house nervous Nellies have chosen to back Nanosys should give some comfort to those investors considering Harris & Harris.

Want to read more about Harris & Harris and nanotechnology? Check out:

As you can see, we're closely following the exciting field of nanotechnology inMotley Fool Rule Breakers. Want to see what's next? Sign up for a free,no-obligation trial today.

Fool contributor Jack Uldrich has been thinking small since grade school. He is the author of The Next Big Thing Is Really Small: How Nanotechnology Will Change the Future of Your Business and can be reached atjack@nanoveritas.com.He does not own shares in any of the companies mentioned in this article. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.


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