By G Nagesh Rao, Chief Technologist, 2016 USA Eisenhower Fellow, US Small Business Administration
The future of next generation technology and innovation lies in the heart of the public sector enabling and willing to let that development come to fruition which is only feasibly executed via the private enterprise. Thus the notion of empowering smart public-private partnerships to move forward and empower next generation entrepreneurs and technologists to build and grow the future ahead in areas such as AI, Automation, On the Spot Manufacturing, Nanotechnology, Life Sciences, and much more.
In order for America to maintain its innovative and technological competitive advantage, it is imperative that current policy design favor high growth formation through the catalytic means of institutional financing. One clear example of that effort has been the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs, which have historically served as crucial financing to help de-risk early-stage technology development and enable validation that encourages follow-on private institution capitalization. This is a program since 1982 that has helped given birth to iconic companies such as Symantec, Qualcomm, Biogen-IDEC, Illumina, iRobot, and many more over the years.
Public sector solutions are vital to help spur next generation innovation and economic development forward
As the program has evolved over the years with current set asides for small business engagement in the federal government’s R&D space, totaling around $2.5 Billion per year across the participating 11 federal agencies, the need for continued development of platforms and tools to help agency program managers, as well the private sector, to better monitor and forecast pertinent technology trends ahead. In 2011, SBA leadership had the foresight to facilitate creation of a next generation business intelligence database system that can help the small business innovation ecosystem community better engage with the program overall via a one stop shop initiative www.sbir.gov.
Public sector solutions are vital to help spur next generation innovation and economic development forward. It is that ability to have the government thoughtfully design out policies to help spur and incentivize economic wealth and prosperity forward, but it’s the execution of endeavors via the not for profit and private sector that help build out and integrate. It’s been a key component of the SBIR/STTR programs to use small businesses as the catalytical stewards of next generation science and technology forward. Case in point, think back to 2014 when the Ebola virus found its way onto US shores, and caused concerns for the potential of an epidemic. During that time, a potential solution for combating Ebola was introduced to the public via Mapp Biopharmaceutical with the ZMapp drug. The interesting point is that the HHS-NIH SBIR program placed a solicitation call dating back to 2007 funding a topic around development of solutions in this space, which Mapp Biopharmaceutical answered.
It was foresight from program managers at HHS-NIH that said this might be an issues we will need a solution for down the road, not necessarily today, but we need to encourage efforts that are forward looking.
Having a system like SBIR.gov helps programmatic and policy oversight, and implementation more agile and effective in aiding better coordination of crucial funding efforts. Furthermore it helps determine technology trends, see what projects have mature effectively and where we can learn better for future iterations and renditions. This type of public sector solution enables win-win scenarios, whereby the federal government has an ability to outsource key R&D needs to the likes of small business companies to said critical high risk R&D and in turn incentivize next generation technology to not only materialize but also become commercializable through the likes of a SBIR/STTR program. Scratching the surface on the entire SBIR/STTR programs, around $44 Billion has been deployed since 1982, and looking at two home runs (of very many) Biogen- IDEC and Qualcomm, the combined market cap values of those two companies alone more than triples the entire ROI of the program’s lifetime. Not bad...not bad at all...