Friday, November 20, 2009

Is America losing its ability to innovate?

The headline and subtitle of the Newsweek story got my attention: "The Decline of Western Innovation -- Why America is falling behind and how to fix it."

Innovation. What is that anyhow? Webster says it's "(1) the introduction of something new. (2) a new idea, method, or device."

OK. That's simple enough. SBIR is supposed to provide funding for small businesses to develop new ideas, methods or devices for solving Federal agency defined problems. That's why the "I" is in SBIR, isn't it?

Has SBIR been effective in producing innovation? YES! The evidence is overwhelming.

A 2008 study done by two University of California at Davis professors, Fred Block and Matt Keller, addressed the subject of "Where Do Innovations Come From?"

It's great reading. Figure 6 is the highlight for me (click on it to expand):

R&D Magazine started issuing their "R&D 100" innovation awards in 1963. These awards honor the 100 most technologically significant products introduced into the marketplace over the past year.

SBIR was created in 1982. Figure 6 shows that approximately 25% of the R&D 100 awards now consistently go to SBIR/STTR funded companies. And they do it with a measly 2.8% of the Federal R&D budget to work with! Think about it.

It can't be any clearer: SBIR funds Innovation.

How do we regain the initiative in being the world's innovation leader? Seems simple to me. Expand SBIR. Make it available to more companies, not fewer. Make it a bigger part of the R&D priorities of our agencies. Don't weaken the process by which projects are vetted. Don't degrade the quality of projects by including non-technology criteria for award.

Send every Senator and Congressperson a copy of the Block/Keller article. Encourage them to read it. Yeah, we know that's wishful thinking. Well, maybe they'll at least look at the pictures. Especially Figure 6.

Then stress that the Senate's version of SBIR Reauthorization will encourage innovation. The House's version will inhibit it.


I had lunch with Matt Keller a few weeks ago. He's at SMU in Dallas now. He says they have a new article in prep. I can't wait to read it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Fred: This is a little off-topic, but I wanted to share with you a ridiculous piece from the peer review of an NIH ARRA proposal, in which I was a co-PI. We know what the stimulus is for, right? So, here it goes:

• (---), LLC is a very small operation and it is not
clear whether it can survive in these difficult economic times. Since half of the project and
budget are devoted to (---) contributions this seems a serious concern."

So much for our (small business) participation in NIH stimulus-related programs, and so much for the stimulus' intended purpose...