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Hearing sets stage for Senate to strengthen SBIR

May 16, 2019
By: Jason Rittenberg

The Senate Small Business Committee held a hearing yesterday on “Reauthorization of the SBA’s Innovation Programs,” which had a heavy emphasis on SBIR/STTR. Earlier in the day, Chairman Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) published a report on business investment, which places many shortcomings of the national economy at the feet of “sharedholder primacy” and calls for policies to incentivize investment by businesses into research and innovation. Among the topics raised during the hearing were making SBIR/STTR permanent, faster contracting, and additional support for innovative companies.

The hearing was structured around two panels. The first featured comments from Joseph Shepard, the associate administrator of the SBA that oversees SBIR/STTR, and John Williams, the director on innovation and technology at SBA. Their testimony and responses outlined the successes of the program, the benefits that permanency would have for businesses, and opportunities to facilitate outreach to states that do not receive many awards. Senators Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.) and Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) were particularly concerned about this last point, and the SBA panelists pointed to the importance of the pilot program that currently helps the agency conduct outreach efforts to encourage additional applications.

Senator Chris Coons (D-Del.) also discussed the impacts of policy in last year’s defense authorization act, which enables SBIR applicants to use part of their funds to procure business assistance. SBA has been working with SBIR agencies over the past several months to encourage a consistent and clear approach that will help awardees cover some IP and other assistance costs related to scaling their companies.

In the second panel, representatives from the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, Small Business Technology Council, and two companies presented their perspective on the value of the program. These comments focused largely on making the program permanent, increasing the portion of extramural R&D funding that is devoted to commercialization activities, and streamlining the process for applicants and awardees.

The hearing helps set the stage for the Small Business Committee legislation related to SBIR/STTR. Judging by Sen. Rubio’s report and the hearing’s discussions, the committee appears open to strengthening the programs along multiple dimensions.

sbir, congress, sba