SBIR/STRR Programs Foster Innovation
Thursday, January 14, 2010
Posted by: Matthew Montoya
By Robert J. Goetz
Manager, Small Business Development Center
Seminole Community College
Those of us living in Central Florida still marvel at the sight of a space shuttle orbiter gracefully lifting off from launch pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center. A brilliant blend of science, engineering, and technology underlies such masterful achievement. Established in 1958 during the Eisenhower administration, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is celebrating 50 years of space exploration.
The technical challenges faced by putting a man on the moon, followed by the challenges of building a cost-effective, reusable shuttle, presented a great framework for cultivating a myriad of vast, new ideas and concepts. Nice fertile ground for entrepreneurs.
Writing from Orlando, while attending the 2008 Spring National Conference on Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Research (STTR), 50 years of NASA are widely evident, as are 25 years of the SBIR/STTR programs. The conference, produced by the Florida Small Business Development Center Network, is effectively sharing critical knowledge across the 11 participating federal agencies, academia, and small business.
For those unfamiliar, the federal SBIR program encourages small business to explore their technological potential and provides financial incentive to profit from its commercialization. Through the inclusion of qualified small businesses in the nation’s research and development arena, high tech innovation is stimulated and the United States accrues entrepreneurial stock while simultaneously attaining research and development goals.
Capitalistic, market-driven economies historically have relied on the entrepreneurial sector for scientific and technological innovation. However, market and technical risks, combined with cost factors, often constrain research and development efforts of many small businesses. By reserving a specific percentage of federal R&D funds for small businesses, SBIR nurtures small enterprises and helps level the playing field with big business. SBIR funds the critical startup and development stages and encourages the commercialization of the technology, product, and/or service.
Even in the current environment of budget cuts, the federal SBIR/STTR allocation has increased $10 million for FY 2008. The 11 federal agencies required to set aside R&D funds for small business are:
• Department of Education
• Department of Defense
• Department of Agriculture
• Department of Commerce
• Department of Energy
• Department of Health and Human Services
• Department of Transportation
• Department of Homeland Security
• Environmental Protection Agency
• National Science Foundation
• National Aeronautics and Space Administration
Forging symbiotic relationships amongst government, academia, and small business has and will always be a challenging endeavor. Yet the SBIR program has been successfully performing this for 25 years. The current program will have sunset on May 30 and requires congressional recertification to continue.
Here in the conference hall the excitement over 50 years of NASA and 25 years of SBIR contrasts sharply with the somber mood of the phase out of the space shuttle orbiter and uncertainly over the future of the SBIR and STTR programs.
We’ve seen numerous contributions to human society through the marriage of small business and space exploration. It would be reasonable to assume that NASA’s next planned phase of space exploration, Constellation, will continue to offer a smorgasbord of new and different challenges. With these challenges come new opportunity and the resultant innovative solutions. Academia, particularly community colleges, remains well positioned to continue guiding and nurturing entrepreneurs to successfully connect with this aspect of the creative economy.