WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Translated from Chinese into English, Chaohao Hou literally means super hero. But think more Hiro from the hit TV series “Heroes” than Superman when it comes to Claude Hou. That’s the Western name Hou adopted while working toward his MBA at Wake Forest University’s Babcock Graduate School of Management.
Hou, a member of the full-time class of 2008, is hoping to become a real-life super hero in the field of nanotechnology. A $3,000 grant recently awarded to him by the Chambers Family Fund for Entrepreneurship at Wake Forest will help him pursue that goal.
Hou, who is armed with a chemical engineering and computer background, and his best friend have come up with a business plan to produce nanomaterials that include nanowires and nanocubes using silver blended with copper, gold and even aluminum.
Hou’s friend, Chang Chen, is currently researching this technology at IMEC, a leading institute on nanotechnology in Europe, while working on his doctorate at Katholieke Universiteit Leuven in Belgium. Meantime, Hou is working with Wake Forest’s graduate physics department on the new nanotechnology as well as with the business school’s incubator to develop Filigree Nanotech Inc.
“I’m meeting with Claude twice a week to help him get his business off the ground,” said Tom Clarkson, director of the Babcock Demon Incubator.
Using a special electrical adhesive, “we can improve conductivity by at least 10 times,” Hou said. “The result of this technology is that you could have a cell phone that is thinner and lighter with much better performance. The improved conductivity means a battery can last 20 days without a charge and provide a better signal.”
The fledgling technology will eventually allow cell phones that can currently only run a few programs to run numerous programs, up to 200 CPUs. And the nanowire Hou and his friend are working to develop could eventually be used in electric vehicles to extend their range between charges.
Current production of the new material is slow and inefficient, according to Hou. “It doesn’t make sense for commercialization,” he said. “We want to scale it up.”
That’s one reason Hou and Chen want to work with the University’s Center for Nanotechnology. The pair’s business is currently based in the Angell Center for Entrepreneurship, and they may use office space in Babcock’s business incubator starting as early as March 2008, according to Hou.
“I have a passion for this business,” he said. “I’m really comfortable with this technology; it’s really good and it’s a good market. I just want to do something different.”
A native of China’s Shandong Province, which lies between Beijing and Shanghai, Hou decided to attend business school to augment his engineering and science background. “After I graduated from college I had different types of jobs in chemical companies, and I decided I needed to know more about running a business,” he said.
He chose Babcock for his MBA studies after reading a book by, according to Hou, the most powerful business woman in China, the chief executive officer of Microsoft there. “She mentioned the Babcock School,” he said. “And Winston-Salem is a beautiful city.”
The Chambers grant was created through an endowment gift from the family of John Chambers, chief executive officer of Cisco Systems. The awards are given twice a year by a committee appointed by the provost. The main purpose of this fund is to promote the advancement of entrepreneurial activities involving the Internet and other technological commerce. Hou is one of 10 Babcock students who have received a Chambers award since they began being distributed in 2004.
“Claude is one of those unique individuals who quickly learns how to get the most out of situations,” said Stan Mandel, director of the Angell Center. “He has combined his passion for launching this venture with the resources that are available. He knows how to engage people in a meaningful way and as a result, they want to be part of his adventure.”