Thursday, January 28, 2010

Congress Extends SBIR Program for 90 Days

Jere Glover, Executive Director of the Small Business Technology Council (SBTC), issued the following announcement this morning:

"The House of Representatives voted on Wednesday to extend the SBIR program for another 90 days. The program had been set to expire on Jan. 31, 2010, but the new continuing resolution now pushes the expiration date back to April 30. The Senate is also expected to pass this legislation in short order.

This is the sixth CR passed since the SBIR program was originally up for expiration in 2008. Although reauthorization bills have been passed in the House and the Senate, the language in the two bills was very different, and the two Chambers have so far been unable to reconcile the differences in the two bills into a single bill that can be sent to the President for his signature.

While we are happy that Congress has not allowed this important program to lapse, it is important that the two sides can reach an agreement this year, before the new Congress starts next year and this process will have to start all over again.

SBTC has endorsed the Senate’s language as an acceptable compromise, and urges the House to do so as well."

Keep tuned to for updates.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Senator Cardin Introduces Bill to Repeal NIH SBIR Exclusion

It's about time! It's been almost a year since that abomination was perpetrated! As Senator Benjamin Cardin (D-MD) said in a Press Release from the Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee today:

"It was a severe blow to biotechnology firms across the country when NIH extramural research funding was exempted from their requirement to dedicate funding to SBIR and STTR awards. As a result, small businesses across the country, which the recovery package was intended to benefit, have been denied the opportunity to fairly compete for more than $200 million in grants."

In addition, the bill provides small businesses with tax credits for health insurance and job creation expenses, and opens up new direct loans to small businesses using already allocated TARP funding.

Recognizing the vital role small business has always had in the overall growth of our economy, the bill also encourages elevating the Small Business Administration to Cabinet-level status.

Interesting timing, as the reauthorization of SBIR has still not been accomplished. Where are we on that Senator?

Late word is that the House Small Business Committee has chosen not to respond to the Senate's compromise proposal, and we'll have a sixth Continuing Resolution, this one for 90-days. Oh goodie. Three more months of torture! Don'tcha just love how our Congress works!

We should hear something official by the end of the week. Stay tuned to for the latest news.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Senate Calls for FAST SBIR Action

Well, not exactly. But it's a wonderful idea! We've only got a week before SBIR fades away or gets extended -- again.

What the Senate did do this week is call upon the SBA to swiftly implement the allocated funds for the Federal and State Technology (FAST) Partnership that provides funding for SBIR outreach support for the States. Senators Mary Landrieu (D-LA) and Olympia Snowe (R-ME) co-signed a letter from the Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee to Karen Mills, SBA Administrator, requesting a schedule by February 12th for the implementation of FAST. View the official Press Release about the letter HERE.

Now, why push for FAST implementation when SBIR's Reauthorization hangs undone? Is this a signal that we can expect some action next week before it expires? I think so. I hope so.

There is the argument that the DOD has independently extended SBIR through the end of FY2010 and this FAST allocation is for FY2010 as well. With DOD having half of the SBIR pot, some FAST funding to support it would surely be put to good use. So, it's being pushed by folks behind the scenes. I support the push and the Senate's advice to the SBA.

But I do see this as a bigger signal. We have ten federal agencies whose SBIR programs will fade away on January 31st without some legislative action. Lack of action would represent a congressional and Obama administration failure.

After the Miracle in Massachusetts this week, our shell-shocked congress and the Obama administration needs something positive to accomplish. They don't need another failure.

Why not make SBIR Reauthorization a shining example of bi-partisan accomplishment?

Best of all worlds? The House accepts the Senate's SBIR Reauthorization Bill and passes it. There was talk of this sort of action for the Health Care Bill, but they didn't have the votes. Nydia Velazquez' expected opposition notwithstanding, they just might have the House votes to do this!

But the alleged compromise (whatever it is) would work too. Just PLEASE get something done by next Friday! Another Continuing Resolution would be better than nothing, but EVERYONE is tired of this.

FAST action..... what a wonderful idea! Call/email/fax your Senators and Representatives today. Give them something productive to work on.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Some SBIR Predictions for 2010

Yogi Berra said it best: "It's tough to make predictions -- especially about the future. The future ain't what it used to be!"

What's going on in Washington sure underscores Yogi's insight. Things, they are a changing. I've been watching the SBIR reauthorization related activity in Congress and at the Agencies with bemused frustration. I've heard every argument and every rationalization of what should be done a countless number of times. I can even argue both sides on some of the issues.

One thing for sure, SBIR will be different. But how? No one knows for sure. Especially not me. But I'm going to apply another of Yogi's observations -- "You can observe a lot by just watching." -- and give a shot at some predictions for SBIR in 2010, based solely on what I've observed.

Before I do, let's do a quick check of my 2009 predictions:

1. The SBA won't raise the award caps independent of congressional action. CAME TRUE. They didn't.

2. will make some major changes. CAME TRUE. They introduced an Adobe-based template to replace the despised PureEdge software and improved the input submission capacity and user communications. All that didn't prevent a 3-hour melt-down during the NIH Challenge Grant submission however.

3. The SBIR landscape will become more competitive. CAME TRUE. All agencies reported increases in submissions. The budgets did not increase. So, award rates did decline for many of the Agencies.

4. Reauthorization will be further delayed. CAME TRUE. We're currently in our fifth continuing resolution.

Four for four. Not bad! Now for 2010...

Here are my fourteen predictions for how the Reauthorization will shake out:

  • 1. SBIR/STTR will be reauthorized this January.
  • 2. Non-individual majority owned companies will get SBIR eligibility -- with some limitations and restrictions.
  • 3. The funding caps will be increased, but not by as much as the House wants.
  • 4. The funding base will also be increased, very slightly and over time, but not enough to compensate for the increased caps.
  • 5. Phase I will still be required, but Fast-Track will be enhanced.
  • 6. Proposal evaluation cycles will be shortened.
  • 7. Multiple Phase IIs (and follow-ons for further development) will be permitted.
  • 8. Support for Phase III (commercialization) will be expanded for all agencies -- and all agencies will place increased emphasis on commercialization potential as a criteria for award.
  • 9. Required inclusion of projects for some critical technologies will be specified.
  • 10. Special award preference for some non-technology demographic interests (including veterans) will be included.
  • 11. The policy and oversight authority will be a Committee co-chaired by the NIST and the White House's OSTP.
  • 12. The SBA's Office of Advocacy will continue to be able to comment on SBIR issues.
  • 13. Money will be authorized for SBIR administration and award database maintenance.
  • 14. Reauthorization will be for between five and eight years.
I made most of these predictions back in October and haven't seen or heard anything to change my mind from what I said then.

Why do I think it'll happen in January? Everyone is tired of the continuing resolution game. President Obama has promised that small business issues will be the next top priority once Health Care is a done deal. I believe that will happen as soon as Congress reconvenes.

The OSTP/NIST policy committee likelihood was reinforced recently by a comment by Aneesh Chopra, the first-ever [are you ready for this title?] Chief Technology Officer (CTO) and Director for Technology in the White House Office of Science and Technology in an interview he gave in December: "[Pending] House and the Senate agreement, we think a modernized version of the SBIR program will more tightly integrate the work that’s been done there to meet the operational needs of the agency and could spur economic growth." Sounds to me like he's clued in and ready to effect SBIR "modernization". I don't expect the Senate and House compromise being worked on to go in a different direction. The line will be toed.

On the eligibility issue, the likelihood that the Senate will relax its stance on SBIR eligibility was enhanced by the little talked about recently concluded temporary assignment of my friend Jo Anne Goodnight (the NIH's long-time SBIR guru) to the Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee for the past six months. She's been an unwavering advocate for allowing VC controlled companies to compete for awards. I expect she persuaded some of her fellow Senate committee staffers to support a more relaxed eligibility position. C'est la vie.

Much of what's being proposed for non-innovation or non-technology related award preferences meets the politically correct litmus test, and that's all it will take to have these provisions included. Pah.

So, we shall see. SBIR will continue. It will change. The future won't be what it used to be. (Thanks Yogi.) And however it shakes out, I'll continue to be the SBIR Coach. Maybe I need to come up with some of my own Yogi-isms.