Does your business have an innovative idea that could be commercialized for use by the federal government? If so, good news: The SBA recently announced that its Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program will undergo some improvements to make it more “entrepreneur-friendly” and make it easier for small businesses to innovate and create new jobs.
The SBIR program is a three-phase award system in which small businesses compete to propose innovative ideas that have high commercialization potential and can be used by federal agencies. Funded by a set-aside from external research budgets of 11 participating agencies, the program’s goals are to encourage innovation, enhance private-sector commercialization of innovation, and get more women and minority entrepreneurs involved in technology innovation.
Dubbed “SBIR 2.0,” the revamped program was developed using feedback from small businesses themselves, as well as recommendations from independent, third-party studies. Improvements will focus on three key areas:
- Streamlining the approval process. The target time-frame between selection of a proposal and award to an applicant will be less than 60 days for all agencies.
- Simplifying the application process. SBIR is building a "one-stop-shop" web portal so entrepreneurs can find solicitation topics, current announcements and news from all 11 agencies in one, searchable location.
- Expanded financing. SBIR will expand bridge financing programs to encourage participating agencies to leverage their SBIR funds to promote third-party investment.
- Expanding use of the SBIR program to facilitate technology transfer from federal labs. The National Institute of Standards and Technology, the Navy, the National Institutes of Health, and the Department of Transportation have all committed to funding targeted innovations from federal labs to enhance their commercialization prospects through SBIR.
- Encouraging agencies to issue joint solicitations. This will streamline the process for applicants and address areas of national priorities. For example, NIH, DHS, DARPA, NSF and USDA are participating in a joint Phase 1 solicitation for robotics.
3. Better Performance
- Implementing uniform performance metrics across the SBIR agencies to better measure what successful commercialization and innovation means for agencies and participating companies.
- Making performance data publicly available. This is part of the Obama Administration's emphasis on transparency in government.
Will the changes help? Hopefully.
In today’s economy, the commercialization and innovation assistance from the SBIR is more valuable than ever for small businesses. Consider this: Last year, the venture capital industry as a whole put $1.7 billion into early-stage investments. By comparison, the SBIR program invested $2.5 billion in funding into early-stage investments. The projects the SBIR program supports are those typically deemed too risky for private investors. With companies including Qualcomm, Symantec and Genentech among those that SBIR has funded in the past, those are risks worth taking.