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SBIR at 40 – What’s Next?

June 21, 2022

During the SBIR/STTR Spring Innovation Conference, the U.S. Small Business Administration hosted a keynote session titled, “SBIR at 40 – What’s Next?” Panelists, moderated by SBA’s Erick Page-Littleford, discussed the impact that the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs have had over their 40 years of existence, and what the future may hold.

Jason Rittenberg, policy and development director at SSTI, focused on the significance of SBIR/STTR to national and regional innovation economies. In the past 40 years, more than 30,000 companies have received at least one award from the programs, which have provided a total of more than $29 billion in funding in the last decade alone. Studies by the National Academies and others have found that the program has supported tens of billions of dollars in sales of new technologies by awardees — including back to the sponsoring agencies to help the departments advance their missions — and accelerated advances in critical medical treatments. Rittenberg also noted that SBIR/STTR agencies and supporting organizations need to do a better job of reaching underserved entrepreneurs and regions with the program so that SBIR funding impacts more of the country.

Krista Covey, president of First Flight Venture Center, stressed the importance of SBIR/STTR as a source of funding that helps North Carolina’s technology-focused companies bridge the gap from idea to a sustainable business. Over the past several years, the state successfully engaged in a multi-faceted effort to see more SBIR/STTR awards to North Carolina companies. This effort included focused program from First Flight, partially supported by an SBA FAST program award, and a matching grant program from the North Carolina Department of Commerce. The combination of federal funding, state funding and regional assistance has meant that more companies in the state have been able to develop new tech products for government and other clients.

ML Mackey, CEO and co-founder of Beacon Interactive Systems and chair of the National Defense Industrial Association’s Small Business Division, spoke about what SBIR/STTR has meant for her company. The funding was critical to helping Beacon Interactive engage with the defense industrial base and particularly allowed the flexibility for staff to work directly with their Navy clients to acquire the necessary, detailed understanding of what the end product needed to do. Mackey emphasized the need for SBIR/STTR funding to continue to be available so that more new entrants to the defense industry have an opportunity to develop new technologies and achieve a sustainable level of growth — i.e., crossing the “valley of death” that eliminates many new, innovative companies.

The SBIR/STTR expires on Sept. 30, 2022 without Congressional action, and all three panelists discussed the economic and technological damage that will occur if the program is not renewed. More than 100 organizations have written to Congress urging action to prevent a lapse in the program, but the issue remains unresolved.

sbir, ssti, sba