Today’s economy is driven in large part by the nation’s capacity to innovate. While entrepreneurs are willing and able, converting ideas into innovations for the market involve substantial challenges. Public-private partnerships are one means to help entrepreneurs bring new ideas to market. The Small Business Innovation Research Program (SBIR) is one of the largest examples of U.S. public-private partnerships. It was founded in 1982 to encourage small businesses to develop new processes and products and to provide research in support of the mission of the U.S. government R&D departments and agencies. Congress requested a comprehensive study of the SBIR program, to determine its effectiveness and provide recommendations for program enhancements.
To guide this study, an expert committee and team of researchers, which included CAT’s President, were convened. The analysis of the SBIR program involved multiple sources and methodologies, including surveys, case studies and data from the 5 federal agencies that comprise the majority of SBIR program funding. These agencies include the Department of Defense, the National Institutes of Health, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation.
The initial report concluded that the SBIR program is sound in concept and effective in practice. It is increasing innovation, encouraging participation by small companies in federal R&D, providing support for small firms owned by minorities and women, and resolving research questions for mission agencies in a cost-effective manner. The report also made recommendations to maintain and reinforce positive features of the program, such as the flexibility in approach by different agencies. In addition, the report identified pressing needs such as the need for better data collection and analysis, and opportunities for improvement such as increasing award size and improving participation and success of women and minorities. The study had a major impact on the reauthorization of the SBIR program. For example, Congress extended the program, increased the size of the awards to firms and set aside more funds for the program. The committee went on to complete detailed studies of each agency i.e. DoD, NIH, NASA DOE and NSF.