Report sheds light on SBIR subcontracting behavior

A new report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) studies a sample of 198 Phase II Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) awards from FY 2019 to identify subcontracting activity. SBIR recipients are generally allowed to subcontract up to 50% of their award value, and STTR recipients must contract at least 30% with a nonprofit research institution. GAO found that 30% of Phase II awards included no subcontract, 24% included at least one subcontract with an academic institution, and 23% included at least one subcontract with a large business (including many defense contractors). The study also found marked differences between the Department of Defense, with 55% of Phase II awards including at least one subcontract, and civilian agencies, which saw subcontracts in 82% of awards. The purpose of GAO’s study was to determine the share of SBIR/STTR recipients reporting subcontractors in the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act of 2006 (FFATA) Subaward Reporting System (FSRS). While the agency estimates that only 10% of awards reported subcontracts, GAO notes that compliance is low across all federal programs and did not estimate what portion of awards are obliged to report under FSRS guidance.

SBIR reduction at DOE

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has reduced its funding for the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs. The cut at the Office of Science—the agency’s primary program administrator—appears to be about 35%. The change resulted from congressional direction that the agency had miscalculated its SBIR set-aside and is intended to make the Office of Science’s calculation more consistent with that of the other programs in DOE. The reduction will likely result in tougher competition for SBIR/STTR awards at the agency in the foreseeable future.

Useful Stats: 10-year SBIR awards by state and agency, 2013-2022

In anticipation of America's Seed Fund week on May 15-18, 2023, this article will explore the last 10 years of Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program award data. These data cover all 50 states, D.C., and Puerto Rico.

SBIR is a highly competitive awards-based program that funds small businesses to support R&D projects with potential for commercialization. Eleven federal agencies participate in the SBIR program, each with varying budgets, requirements, and goals.

SBA adds disclosure of foreign influence to SBIR policy directive

Last year's Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) reauthorization included a new requirement that participating agencies work to identify foreign connections of applying companies. Certain types of connections to “countries of concern,” which include China and Russia, could result in the small business being prohibited from receiving federal funds. The U.S. Small Business Administration has now published a template for disclosure of foreign relationships that will be part of the latest SBIR policy directive and that all agencies will be expected to use. The template is available for public comment through May 3 in the Federal Register.

Would an increase in the quantity of NIH SBIR awards impact their overall quality?

In a recent study titled Does NIH select the right healthcare ventures through the SBIR grant program?, researchers from Rutgers University and the University of Connecticut took advantage of the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) to conduct a natural experiment. The opportunity was available due to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) decision to use ARRA dollars to fund additional Phase I SBIR awards from general SBIR competitions, and the researchers compared these 19 ARRA-funded awards to the other 479 Phase I awards that were first funded in the same competitions with regular appropriations.

SBA announces 44 FAST awardees

The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) recently announced 44 FAST awards, including 12 new awards,  totaling over $5.4 million, with each up to $125,000 for specialized training, mentoring, and technical assistance for research and development. The goal of the Federal and State Technology (FAST) Partnership Program is to strengthen the competitiveness of small businesses and startups to improve Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) program outcomes.

Congress advances three-year SBIR/STTR reauthorization

On Tuesday, the Senate passed a bill to extend the SBIR, STTR and related pilot programs through Sept. 30, 2025. The House is expected to act on the legislation next week, just ahead of the current expiration at the end of this month. In addition to reauthorizing the programs, the legislation makes changes to performance standards for companies with numerous awards, foreign risk management, topic solicitations, and requires several new reports by SBA and the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

Recent Research: Exploring nationwide distribution of AI-focused Phase II SBIR projects

States with top-ranking university AI research programs garner a greater number of Phase II AI-related SBIR awards, according to a working paper from the Department of Economics at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Researchers there investigated state variations in the distribution of Phase II SBIR research projects focused on artificial intelligence (AI). The authors of the paper hypothesized that the state-by-state variations are related to the presence of a research university with a “Top 10” AI program in each state. Analysis showed that three out of the five states receiving the most funding for AI-related Phase II SBIR projects had a top-ranked AI research university. Although proximity to a top research university may be beneficial to Phase II SBIR applicants with AI-focused projects, it is not the only path to success in capturing SBIR funds.

Congressional inaction threatens SBIR program

The federal Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs, providing nearly $4 billion in technology research and development funding, expire — in just six weeks — on Sept. 30. Unlike many federal programs that regularly operate beyond the end of their authorization, there is no direct SBIR appropriation that will ensure the program continues as-is without congressional action. Instead, SBIR would be on an agency-by-agency basis. The Department of Defense already announced it “cannot continue funding new or ongoing” projects without reauthorization, and the Federal Laboratory Consortium for Technology Transfer (FLC) has warned that even the agencies that carry on may have challenges with SBIR data rights (a non-disclosure obligation on the federal government for certain information developed under an SBIR/STTR award) and post-award (i.e., Phase III) purchases of SBIR-developed technologies by federal agencies.

GAO finds new Air Force SBIR process increases participation and geographic distribution of awards

A new open topic approach used by the U.S. Air Force in issuing Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) awards coincided with an overall increase in the agency’s SBIR/STTR participation figures and proposal processing times, according to a recent federal analysis. The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that using open topics for soliciting Phase I proposals, which the Air Force implemented in 2018, has largely displaced the agency’s conventional process of offering very specific research topics. The open approach was found to be more effective in attracting new companies to federal contracting and issuing awards quickly. GAO found nearly 43 percent of the 1,001 open topics awardees had no prior federal contract experience compared to only 14 percent of the 771 conventional awardees being new to federal procurement. Additionally, GAO reports that an April 2021 study found that after receiving an open topic award these awardees were more likely to obtain further funding from other sources.


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