Frontiers of Entrepreneurship Research
1997 Edition
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1Steven T. Walsh
1Bruce A. Kirchhoff
2Marylouise Dowd

1School of  Management
New Jersey Institute of Technology
Newark, New Jersey 07102-1982

2Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Troy, NY

Telephone: 201-596-5658
Fax: 201-596-3074

Principal Topics

One of the newest emerging technologies in the world today is micro electro mechanical systems (MEMS).  These are basically mechanical machines constructed on silicon chips such that there is direct conversion from mechanical motion into electrical signals.  And, the combination of machine and electrical signal device is as small as the typical micro chip.  Applications of these devices are emerging in a wide variety of industries, automobile (air bag sensor/exploders) , healthcare (intravenous blood pressure monitors)  and consumer products (thermisters of all kinds).  These devices prove to be more reliable and much cheaper that the analog machine-attached-to-computer combinations that they replace.

Like all new technologies, both old and new firms have entered the MEMS business but there is a surge of new firms just beginning to enter with entirely new products.  For example, NJIT's MEMS laboratory has already recorded many patents and patent applications and has moved four products into two incubator firms and over ten new products into outside firms within the last four years.

This emerging industry offers the opportunity to identify and trace the development of new firms and old over a long period of time so that the dynamics of both firms and the indus-try can be examined carefully.  The authors have taken this approach by organizing an an-nual conference on commercializing MEMS and using this as a foundation for identifying new and existing firms and surveying them about their strategies, technologies, operations, and success.  This paper describes the first data derived from the survey results from the 1996 commercialization conference.


The Commercialization of  MEMS conference was sponsored by widely respected engi-neering professional associations and advertised world wide to attract participants.  Over 120 participants attended from all over the world (40 different nations) which made the conference surprisingly successful in achieving its objectives of coverage of the firms in the industry.  Several paper and pencil surveys were distributed to the participants at the conference and the response rates exceed 60 percent.

Major Findings

First, relatively few firms were not in attendance as indicated by the responses on the question:  "What firms do you know that are not in attendance at this meeting."  Second, both small and large firms are actively using a wide variety of technologies to launch new products.  Third, most MEMS products, in production, prototype, or near prototype, are designed to replace some existing product.  The MEMS products offer lower cost, better and more reliable performance and these are the reasons driving product development.  However, there are totally new products in research which combine computer capabilities on the same silicon chip with the mechanical machine.  These latter products offer the op-portunity for major changes in the application of the technology.


This is the first of what we hope will be a long term effort to observe and measure this budding new industry.  As such, it offers the opportunity to develop a unique and clear picture of new firm emergence and industry dynamics that is rare in empirical research.  Especially important will be the analysis of new firm entries, how they enter and affect the direction of technology development and how they gain market share.  It may establish a pattern for future research into industry dynamics as well as provide vital information about new firm formation and growth in technology intensive industries


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