"SBIR: Strategic Investment in the Nation's Future"
Dr. Joseph Bordogna
Chief Operating Officer
NATIONAL SCIENCE FOUNDATION
Symposium on the Small Business Innovation Research
Program: Measuring the Outcomes
National Research Council
October 24, 2002
Good afternoon to you all. I'm delighted to be here
at the Academy to take part in this symposium on the
Small Business Innovation Research program.
As an investment in the nation's future, the SBIR program
merits our most thoughtful attention and evaluation.
The National Science Foundation welcomes this opportunity
to join the other members of the SBIR team to provide
an initial overview of the SBIR program.
I emphasize "our team" because the program is a collective
endeavor. (By the way, the SBA has been a key partner
on this team as well.)
We have worked long and hard to develop a seamless
program that integrates and amplifies common aims.
The result is a nationally integrated federal program
that gets the job done efficiently and effectively.
The "job", of course, is to foster technological innovation
across a wide range of research areas that are important
priorities for the nation.
But what sets the SBIR program apart from many others,
is its focus on developing the particular talent and
capabilities of the small business community to take
innovation to the market.
Turning technological advances into commercial products,
processes and services is absolutely central to the
SBIR program. This brings a new set of players onto
The planned study is a splendid opportunity to take
a look at the SBIR program in its full complexity.
A comprehensive review will enable us to make improvements
in performance, fine tune implementation, and help
us with our planning vision as we move forward.
Most of you know that the seeds for the SBIR program
were sown nearly 25 years ago when NSF initiated a
small business innovation pilot program.
Innovation is at the core of what we are about at NSF,
and our vision statement reflects that. It's direct
and crisp: "enabling the nation's future through discovery,
learning, and innovation."
Our three strategic goals are outcomes at the core
of the research, education and innovation enterprise.
We refer to them simply as: People, Ideas and Tools
- developing a world class science and engineering
workforce, fostering discovery at the frontiers of
knowledge, and developing the tools to get the job
To accomplish these goals, we ensure that each of our
investments builds intellectual capital, integrates
research and education, and promotes partnerships.
It isn't difficult to see that the SBIR program fits
NSF's strategic vision to a tee. We now invest approximately
$85M in the program each year.
Our SBIR portfolio spans nearly every Directorate at
NSF - from engineering to biosciences, to the physical
and mathematical sciences, to the information and
communication sciences, and education research. Because
the SBIR team plans and coordinates investments, the
majority of these NSF grants meet the needs of other
agencies, not just NSF's.
Let me emphasize that this is a program we value highly.
SBIR fills a significant niche that no other program
With that preamble in mind, I want to step back for
a minute and take a long view of the SBIR program.
My colleagues have already provided you with insightful
detail on SBIR. I'm going to give you a "big picture"
perspective. From that viewpoint, we can see certain
patterns emerging from the details.
In many ways, the value of the program and its distinctive
role is best understood in the context of large-scale
transformations that are taking place in our nation's
research and innovation enterprise.
These transformations have opened new frontiers of
knowledge, changed the process of research and innovation,
and increased the complexity of science, engineering,
and technological development.
They have accelerated the pace of discovery and innovation,
and greatly increased and expanded competition.
To evaluate SBIR properly, we have to understand this
rapidly evolving context. That's a tall order, but
it's also an exciting prospect.
The study could be a revolutionary chart of the new
paths we will follow into the 21st century.
Let me elaborate on these themes.
Over the past decade, change has literally transformed
our institutions, and has forced us to take new directions
in business, in research, in science and engineering,
and in education.
One source of this transformation is the extraordinary
outpouring of new knowledge that has occurred over
the past decade.
New knowledge, the result of advances in science and
engineering, is now a key force driving technological
innovation. Innovation in turn creates new jobs and
wealth, spawns new industries, and grows economies.
Where we once thought of productivity in terms of work
per laborer, we now increasingly must also think of
the productivity of knowledge and knowledge workers.
Moving from knowledge to innovation, and on to commercialization,
at increasing speeds, is now the norm.
It's no wonder, then, that the capacity to create and
use new knowledge is seen in both the private and
public sectors as the best path to economic prosperity
and a higher quality of life.
We once thought of this process as a simple, although
protracted, linear progression - from research, to
development, to market. That's no longer the case.
Not only can scientific and engineering research drive
technological innovation, but it can also happen the
other way around.
Innovation can spur the search for new knowledge and
create the context in which the next generation of
research identifies new frontiers.
A driving force in these transformations has been the
revolution in information and communication technologies.
These have opened the floodgates for new knowledge
and technological innovation across the entire spectrum
of science and engineering.
Genomics and the biotechnology industry are only one
example. The budding field of nanotechnology is likely
to be another.
For the first time we have the capability to investigate
highly complex phenomena, and that has led many scientists,
engineers, technologists and entrepreneurs to work
across different disciplines and sectors.
We look ahead to exquisite but practical improvements
in everything from drug delivery systems to renewable
Our new information and communication tools have also
raised the bar on competition worldwide, and accelerated
the pace of change even further.
New knowledge is accessible anywhere in the world,
and at nearly instantaneous speeds. The capacity to
create and employ knowledge resides in an ever growing,
globally linked community.
Competition is heightened, but so is our ability to
address national and global needs.
All of these changes have contributed to a blossoming
of partnerships designed to facilitate the innovation
process. Multidisciplinary research has brought together
teams of researchers, while competition has spurred
the formation of new alliances among business enterprises.
Most important, collaborations among universities,
businesses, and government are thriving.
The federal government has provided strong leadership
here. For much more than a decade, we have been advocating
public-private partnerships in federal research and
Slowly we took steps to form genuine working arrangements.
Further down the path, we have begun to see significant
Now we understand that discovery and innovation rarely
happen without partnerships.
They bring to the table participants with different
expertise and resources, and a diversity of perspectives.
As our products, processes, problems, and solutions
continue to increase in complexity, our need for a
diversity of combinations and partners will grow as
We will also find that our partnerships will become
more inclusive - one of the aims of the SBIR program.
Collaboration among academe, government, labor and
industry, in all the various combinations, is a powerful
way to ensure that the two-way road between the research
laboratory and the world of commerce stays open and
Corporations and universities have had to reinvent
themselves - over and over again to remain responsive
to innovation. So has government! Partnerships have
been reshaped and new ones devised.
The SBIR program (and its close cousin the STTR program)
fit this model to a tee.
It arose from a genuine need to enable small businesses
to bring their own capabilities and talents to the
innovation table, and to harness this potential to
speed commercialization of new technologies.
Reaping the harvest of innovation is central to our
future, and it is really a revolutionary idea. Let
We all understand the idea is that universities and
their science and engineering faculty and students
are critical resources.
They can make a valuable contribution to economic development
in the 21st century - much the same way
that agricultural, industrial and natural resources
did in the 20th century.
But the same is true for entrepreneurs and small businesses.
They make a critical contribution of their own to
economic development by bringing technology intensive,
often risky, innovations to the commercial market.
Today, SBIR has matured, with many successes on the
record. You've heard about some, and you will hear
about another in just a few minutes when Dr. Greg
The program has stimulated an unprecedented level of
collaboration. SBIR grantees have not just partnered
with federal agencies. They have found a number of
ways to collaborate with universities - through contracts,
consultancies, and the use of students.
SBIR has also required collaboration among federal
agencies. Algorithmic handbooks for this do not exist.
No maps or charts were at hand to take us unerringly
to our desired destination.
We had to develop trust, learn to work as a team, and
reach broad consensus on objectives and strategies.
This is not an easy task among federal agencies with
widely varying missions.
In the end, we built a productive team that turned
the SBIR program into an integrated national program.
We found the common ground from which to implement
a balanced program of support for small business innovation
research in the interests of the commonweal.
The distinct missions of each agency are embedded and
linked in a larger strategic context shared by all.
This integration of agency aims within a common framework
enables us to agree on significant opportunities,
and make coordinated investments.
The lesson to take away is that we need to keep our
eye on the larger context.
Our challenge now is to optimize our collaboration
in ways that will continue to strengthen the capability
of small businesses to bring innovations to market.
At the same time, we need to remain flexible enough
to respond to the evolving context. This study can
make a great contribution to these aims.
The study is also an excellent opportunity for us to
learn more about the evolving role of small businesses.
Our world is increasingly technology intensive and
internationally competitive. We need to know much
more about how small business concerns mesh with our
changing economy and with globalization.
And finally, we need to know if we are doing all we
can to top their potential to meet our emerging social
Whether we welcome it or not, the outpouring of new
knowledge and the pace of technological change is
unlikely to lessen anytime soon.
We haven't seen the end of the information revolution
and we're only beginning to feel the impact of biotechnology.
New technologies are already visible on the horizon.
Nanotechnology, for example, is likely to create reverberations
that many believe will make the information revolution
seem insignificant. New technologies, as yet unimagined,
will emerge as these mature.
It is useful to remind ourselves that the context and
environment in which we have to operate will always
change and so will the competition.
Part of building a continuum of success in science,
engineering, technology and business is retaining
the ability to "see" and act upon a changing context.
Few envisioned the significance of information systems
and the revolution being created by the biotechnology
Now these two industries are responsible for the lion's
share of U.S. economic growth. We can begin to calculate
the impact of our new technologies on economic and
There is a great challenge here for the nation in the
next few decades.
We must understand that supremacy in research, in innovation,
and in competitive entrepreneurship is an enduring
quest, an on-going process.
There is no peak that we can reach that will assure
continuing success. It is not a matter of sticking
to the task for the long haul. It is the
We will always need to keep improving the process with
fresh ideas and a fundamental commitment.
The study can help us to focus on this challenge and
take us beyond.