Thursday, January 29, 2009

Focus on Economic Stimulus Revitalizes SBIR Reauthorization Push

Everyone says that creating jobs is the key to turning around the economy. It’s probably the only thing they do agree on! We evidently can’t look to big businesses to create jobs – they’re all cutting back and standing in line with palms outstretched – the modern day ironic equivalent of the bread line of the 1930s. So it seems to be up to small businesses to do the job creation. That’s easier said than done. Everyone knows that too. Slowly but surely the country is realizing that unless we figure out a way to innovatively stimulate small business better than we’ve ever done it before, we won’t get out from under this economic mess we’re in any time soon. So how do we do that?

Those of us who have been involved with it since the 1980s have always known that SBIR stimulates small business. SBIR itself was the stimulus for forming my two companies -- without that avenue of funding having been available neither one would have ever been launched. Together they created over 200 jobs and pumped tens of millions of Federal dollars into the Texas economy. Multiply that by the thousands of other small companies that have earned SBIR funding (yes -- SBIR money is competitively earned not just handed out) and created innovative technology solutions in response to expressed needs, and you begin to see the magnitude of the potential. What’s been missing is the stimulus to take the technology through its final evolution to make the transition from the laboratory to the marketplace.

Seems pretty obvious to me – we have a successful 27-year-old mechanism for stimulating small business innovation already in place. It’s called Small Business Innovation Research. (Gee, even the name is right!) Pump it up (both with money and improvements to administrative process to speed the money flow) and add to it the stimulus to take that final commercialization step. Do this now and we have the potential to create a significant number of jobs in a relatively short time frame.

I’m by no means alone in this thinking. Led by Jere Glover, a DC attorney (at one time the SBA’s General Counsel) who’s the Director of the NSBA’s Small Business Technology Council (SBTC), there’s a revitalized focus on getting the SBIR Program reauthorized and improved. In fact, if we don’t keep the pressure on, there’s a chance that SBIR could get lost in the shuffle and die. Jere puts it succinctly and bluntly: “Currently, the SBIR is set to expire on March 20th, 2009. Unless it is reauthorized, this program will go away, and Federal Agencies will no longer be required to allocate any of their R&D money to small businesses. We need your help to make sure this important legislation is taken up before it is allowed to expire.”

The SBTC is sponsoring a “Washington Fly-In” on February 9th and 10th, where those of us who understand SBIR’s importance and are willing to commit resources to support it, will make a coordinated effort to educate our legislators in both the House and the Senate on the importance of SBIR as an economic stimulus for small business. The SBIR Coach will be there, of course. We’ll be visiting with the small business liaisons of many of our Senators and Representatives to provide recommendations on how to improve the SBIR Program’s effectiveness so as to stimulate the maximum potential for private sector job creation. The objective will be to garner support and sponsorship for SBIR reauthorization as an economic stimulus.

Join us if you can. Click HERE to register to be a part of the group. The headquarters will be at the Westin DC City Center. You DC locals have no excuse not to participate! We’ll have a planning session at the Westin on Monday evening (Feb 9th). There’s to be a breakfast Tuesday morning (Feb 10th) in the Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee Hearing Room (Russell 432). We’ll be having a conference call on February 3rd to get everyone briefed on the event. Once you’ve registered you’ll get the details of that and more.

Some of you may be unfamiliar with the complex and somewhat contentious SBIR reauthorization issues. If you'd like to see my view of what the issues are, go to the "SBIR Reauthorization" page under the "SBIR Program" tab on my website: (Refresh your screen if the page doesn't show up under the tab. It's new and your cache may need clearing.)

I’m helping coordinate a Texas delegation. Executives from some of Texas’ most successful SBIR companies have already committed to attend. If you’d like to join our delegation, please let me know ASAP. We’ve already got appointments with both Senatorial offices and quite a few of those from the House. Add your voice to the chorus. In this game, there’s strength in numbers!

Here’s an idea: If you can’t attend the Fly-In, send me a letter to present on your behalf. Letters from all States are welcome!

And if you think that it’s only a few of us SBIR wags who are arguing for such small business economic stimulus, think again. I’ve seen several articles in the past couple of weeks that promote this thinking. To wit: “Use broader definition of shovel-ready in weighing economic stimulus”, “Entrepreneurs are key to job creation”, “Economic Recovery and the SBIR”, and “Nurturing The Soul Of America”.

I predicted earlier this month that SBIR wouldn’t get reauthorized by March 20th, but would simply be temporarily extended without improvement. How quickly my thinking has changed (on the timing, not the issues). Help me be wrong on this prediction!

Stay tuned…..


Jeff said...

A supporting strategy to consider. Prepare a short outline of the key issues and values of SBIR that the Congress needs to know, and make that available to your readers. Ask them to either send as is, or better yet modify to reflect their own positive experience with SBIR, and then send to their senators and representatives. From experience, a large volume of messages from many different individuals can make quite an impact on the elected folk. Plus, if you can get a bunch of letters sent before your meeting, it can also grease the skids and open some ears when you're talking to the people in person. In any event, giving people like myself a template makes it much easier to quickly put together and send a letter to our reps.

Fred Patterson said...

Great idea, Jeff. And, it's actually in preparation. SBTC has a section on their website ( where a template letter can be edited and automatically sent (emailed) to your legislators - selected from your zip code. The one currently there relates to the Senate from last year. A new one should be up there soon. I recommend copying and pasting it onto your company's letterhead and faxing it too.