The Small Business Technology Council held its annual SBTC membership meeting in Washington, DC on June 24 in conjunction with the NSBA’s Washington Presentation. We had a number of speakers address the group, from DOD, SBA, Capitol Hill, and the civilian agencies.
The first speaker was Andre Gudger, Director of the DOD’s Office of Small Business Programs. He laid out over 20 different initiatives his office was doing in order to streamline the SBIR program and comply with and implement new SBIR changes mandated by the last SBIR reauthorization legislation. Some of the initiatives he discussed were increasing the speed that small businesses get paid, creating a new “Chief Commercialization Officer” in his office to focus only on Commercialization and Phase III, establishing incentives to PEOs to infuse SBIR technology in the acquisition process, and moving the OSBP headquarters into the Pentagon, to greater emphasise the importance of small business programs. The group also had some recommendations for Mr. Gudger, including reducing the time between award announcement and funding, putting Phase III guidance in the DFAR, and using model contracts to speed up contracting time.
Edsel Brown and Nagesh Rao from the SBA’s office of Investment & Innovation were next to speak, and they brought up the importance of doing a better job of communicating SBIR success stories to the public. Nagesh referred to the SBIR program as “America’s Angel Investment Fund”, and stated he wanted 1-2 success stories per state and per agency to better demonstrate how successful this program has in building innovative small businesses. Edsel highlighted 22 FAST awards in 2014 for firms in socially and economically disadvantaged areas, and discussed the progress they had made in setting up the Interagency Policy Committee that was mandated by the last SBIR reauthorization. They also mentioned the long-delayed SBIR FY2012 report is in clearance, and should be released reasonably soon, and that they have updated the SBA commercialization database.
After SBA, we had Kevin Wheeler and Kristen Granchelli from the Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee, and Joe Hartz from the House Small Business Committee address the group. Joe Hartz talked about the importance of recentering the program on commercialization, and Kristen Granchelli and Kevin Wheeler focused on their opposition to the proposed TRANSFER Act, which would take money out of the STTR program to fund a new, University-exclusive research program. Not only would the new program take money away from small businesses, but it was also pointed out that at most agencies universities already participate in SBIR/STTR awards at a very high level.
The discussion panel with federal agency SBIR PMs was the last group to speak, and they included Manny Oliver from DOE, Matthew Portnoy from NIH, Susan Nichols from DARPA, and April Richards from EPA. All the PMs discussed the importance in increasing funding and focus on commercialization at their agencies. Susan Nichols highlighted changes to the DARPA website designed to make it easier to navigate the SBIR solicitation process, and April Richards talked about the commercialization services that EPA provides companies looking to bring their technologies to the marketplace. Manny Oliver and Matthew Portnoy both discussed the use of sequential Phase IIs at their agencies. Matthew Portnoy also brought up the fact that SBIR applications have been down at NIH for the last 2 years, but that there will be $60 million more SBIR funding in FY2014 than in FY2013, so hopefully that trend will turn around.
We also had two handouts that we distributed to members who attended the meeting. The first is a primer on the SBIR program, a simple 1-page handout describes in layman’s terms what the SBIR program is, how it works, and why it is successful, for those government officials that aren’t familiar with the program. The second is a more in-depth white paper on the SBIR program in 2014 within the context of the current economic and innovation climate, with recommendations to Congress about how to improve and expand the program.
On the whole the meeting was very productive, and both sides learned a lot. We thank the speakers who generously volunteered their time to meet with our members and discuss these important issues with them.