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Recent Research: SBIR funding influencing outcomes

May 17, 2018

The Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program dubs itself as “America’s largest seed fund.” Three recent research articles add to the existing literature on the program. First, a study finds that SBIR supports high-risk efforts to convert R&D. A second study suggests that SBIR awardees are more likely to locate in denser regions but in less dense neighborhoods in those regions. A third study finds that SBIR awardees from federal agencies with more diverse workforces tend to perform better. For the economic development community, these findings may influence the way SBIR-related services such as entrepreneurial assistance programs and matching grants are delivered.

SBIR supports higher-risk efforts to convert research and development

A recent article published in Science and Public Policy finds new support for SBIR’s policy mission. The research indicates that SBIR awards are not only largely successful in helping companies to convert promising innovations into new products or services, but that the program specifically encourages companies to develop higher-risk technologies than would be developed without the award.

Albert N. Link and John T. Scott use survey data by the National Academies of NIH Phase II awardees for their analysis, which measures the presence of an award, prior Phase II awards, need for FDA approval and topic of research against actual or anticipated sales. The authors find that projects that were expected to go forward without SBIR awards achieve sales about 23 percent more often than projects that did need the awards to advance (88 percent versus 71 percent). In the context of the projects’ overall success, the authors suggest that a lower rate of commercialization is an indicator that many Phase II awardees are developing higher-risk technologies than would otherwise be advanced.

SBIR awardees locate in denser regions, less dense neighborhoods

In a recent Urban Studies article, authors Shima Hamidi and Ahoura Zandiatashbar ask, does urban form matter for innovation productivity? In the study, the authors examine the relationship between urban sprawl, place-based characteristics, and innovation products. Using SBIR award winners as a proxy for small, innovative companies, the authors develop a model that accounts for built environment characteristics at both the neighborhood and regional levels.

At the regional level, the authors find that the number of innovative firms is positively and significantly associated with the compactness of the metropolitan area (as measured by a compactness index). At the neighborhood level, the authors find that the most important place-based driver of innovation is spatial clustering, or the presence of firms in related business sectors that are in close proximity to the tract. The authors also find a positive and significant association between the number of innovative firms in a census tract and the Walk Score, transit frequency, and racial diversity of the tract. However, when controlling for these variables, the authors find a significant and negative relationship between the compactness of a census tract and the presence of small innovative firms. The authors suggest that locating in compact neighborhoods would be unaffordable for innovative small businesses due to the high-costs of property. 

The diversity of federal agencies influences SBIR performance

In a recent Small Business Economics article, authors Amol Joshi, Todd Inouye, and Jeffrey Robinson ask, how does agency workforce diversity influence federal R&D funding of minority and women technology entrepreneurs? The authors analyze more than 50,000 SBIR/STTR awards granted by 11 federal agencies between 2001 and 2011. They find that minority and women technology entrepreneurs are less likely to receive Phase II SBIR funding than their non-minority and male counterparts. However, they do not find evidence that the diversity of an agency impacts the outcomes for women and minority technology entrepreneurs. As a result, they suggest that other factors indirectly related to minority-owned enterprises are more likely to affect their transition outcomes.

Broadly, the authors also find a positive relationship between the diversity of an agency workforce and the likelihood a Phase I grantee transitions to a phase II award. The authors suggest that this is an indication that federal agency workforce diversity is beneficial to all firms. Because funds from SBIR and STTR may have a disproportionately larger impact on minority-owned and women-owned small businesses than other types of firms, they argue that the sustained funding of these programs is important for supporting these types of entrepreneurs.