Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Will President Obama's Techonomics Program Impact SBIR?

Well, we now have a new President, and he's hit the ground running. The Obama administration has proposed federal legislation with an aggressive techonomics [click on the word if you don't know what that means] stimulus package that emphasizes innovative science and technology and calls for dramatic increases in short-term funding levels for R&D. Very significant increases over currently authorized amounts are proposed for the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Department of Energy (DOE), and the National Institute of Standards & Technology (NIST).

This got my attention, as any increases in funding for R&D in the NSF, DOE, and NIST should translate directly into increased funding for SBIRs in those agencies. That means more potential projects for all of us to work on!

Both the R&D and education provisions of the new House initiative harmonize with President Obama's promise to enhance innovation by providing short-term stimulus spending where it is needed, while providing a long-term basis for economic growth. But will it work?

I had a conversation with Dan Loague today. Dan is the Executive Director of the Capital Formation Institute (CFI), an educational organization whose mission is to be the "premier international research and educational entity in the fields of early stage capital financing and enterprise creation and growth." Dan's take on the Obama Techonomics stimulus package, and what it will take to make it work, is:

"Science, technology and research help create the raw materials of innovation, but it’s the buyers, sellers and markets, not inventions, that create jobs and income. Think about it: filling the barn with better paint will not get the barn painted. It’s going to take specific actions, not just hope that new ideas can somehow be turned into U.S. companies that find success the competitive global market.

We should now ask the following key questions:
(1) What part of the funding will actually help to produce jobs and new capital from science and technology? (2) How much of the money will be used to increase the launch of new products into the marketplace and the numbers of new consortia of science, technology and corporate solution seekers? (3) How much of the money will be devoted to helping create high impact jobs that will produce new subject matter experts?"

To focus attention on this, the CFI is sponsoring a RoundTable Teleconference on "Obama's Techonomics Program". It's tomorrow, Wednesday, January 21st, at 2PM EST. See the details at http://www.cfi-institute.org/Roundtable. You'll find the call-in number there, along with pictures of the discussion leaders: Robert Boege (ASTRA), Ray Felts (Nine-Sigma), Connie Luthy (Medical Products Innovation), and Marc Oettinger (SURA).

The SBIR Coach will be participating in the call, raising issues pertinent to SBIR of course. I encourage you to join in as well.

Dan and I are now working on a CFI Roundtable Teleconference, to be scheduled in February, to focus on "Reinventing SBIR: Effecting order of magnitude scale improvements in Federal economic stimulus programs designed for small business." Improvements in SBIR will be the goal in the SBIR reauthorization activities to be undertaken with this new Congress, so this is timely and important. Stay tuned for details in upcoming Blog postings, and on the CFI website (http://www.cfi-institute.org).

And, finally, to tie this all together, Tom Still of the Wisconsin Technology Network, highlighted the impact of SBIR on the country's economic health in his just published article (http://wistechnology.com/articles/5389/) on suggestions for economic stimulus priorities:

"[Congress must] Reauthorize the federal Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program. Launched 25 years ago, this program has enabled 700,000 small businesses to develop cutting-edge products. Eleven federal agencies granted about $2.3 billion in the latest year for merit-based research and development projects. Over time, SBIR and related programs have created 1.5 million jobs in small companies that typically employ high-wage scientists and engineers. It's a program that works - so why not reinvest?"
Indeed! Tune in to tomorrow's Teleconference, and participate! Please!
UPDATE: Wednesday, January 21st, 5PM CST
We had the Techonomics Teleconference this afternoon and it was great! Lots of good commentary and questions. The intended hour actually stretched to almost 90 minutes, and Dan said that he'd explore having an ancillary session to continue the discussion. If so, I'll report on it here.

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