Learn more about the SBIR Program

I recently returned from a national SBIR/STTR conference in Madison, Wisconsin, where I learned a great deal about the SBIR/STTR program and met many participants in the program from companies and academic institutions.

The federal government’s SBIR program is based on the premise that small businesses and academic institutions are key drivers in bringing new technologies and new products to the marketplace.

Between 1980 and 2005, virtually all net new jobs in the United States were created by firms that were less than five year old or less.  However, bringing new technologies and products into the marketplace is a challenge for SBIR grantees.

While federally funded research can create new ideas, often they cannot attract sufficient financial support.  Capital is needed to help transform ideas, and without capital new ideas and products may become dead ideas and stillborn products.

The federal government commissioned the National Academies to examine the SBIR program.  According to the National Academies’ conference presentation and 2010 reports, government, companies, and academic institutions find SBIR to be an effective tool to promote their missions.  It increases innovation and the use of federal research, encourages participation by minorities and women, provides support for small innovative companies, and helps resolve research questions for federal agencies.  In other words, it provides incentives for everyone involved in the program to innovate.

The SBIR program helps companies turn ideas and knowledge into commercial products.  SBIR now accounts for almost 25 percent of the annual top 100 innovations from US businesses.

Nonetheless, the SBIR program is not without its problems and critics.  Too many small businesses heavily depend on SBIR grants to remain in operation without ever bringing ideas and innovations to fruition.  They are very adept at winning SBIR awards but less adept at turning them into government contracts or commercial products.

The SBIR program also has its Congressional critics.  One of the standard SBIR jokes at the conference was that small businesses are every Representative’s second priority.  While many talk about the value of the program, fewer strongly support it and some representatives consider it a form of corporate welfare.

As several speakers emphasized, the US economic position in the world depends upon our capacity to innovate, and today there are a number of governments in Europe and East Asia that invest more funds in SBIR-type programs than the United States.  Meanwhile, other countries are adopting SBIR-type programs, such as Sweden, Finland, and the Netherlands.

For more information, visit the SBIR conference Web site at http://conferencing.uwex.edu/ conferences/sbir2011.  Learn if the SBIR program can help your company turn knowledge into products.

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