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SBIR Program Diversity and Assessment Challenges: Report of a Symposium
program that integrates and amplifies common aims. The result is a nationally integrated federal program that gets the job done efficiently and effectively.”
The job of the SBIR, he said, was to foster technological innovation across a wide range of research areas that were important priorities for the nation. What set the SBIR program apart from many others was its focus on particular talent and the capabilities of the small business community to take innovation to the market. Turning technological advances into commercial products, processes, and services was essential to the SBIR program, and continuously brought “a new set of players onto the field.” The planned evaluation study was a splendid opportunity to look at the SBIR program in its full complexity, not just in its separate pieces. A comprehensive review, he said, would enable participants to make improvements in performance, fine-tune implementation, and help with planning.
He noted that the seeds of the SBIR program had been planted nearly 25 years before, when NSF initiated a small business innovation pilot program. He introduced two of the pioneers of that effort, Roland Tibbets and Richard Coryell, who were among the participants. He said that the program had started as an idea, in a natural way, when grantees asked to do something and an agency program officer had the alertness to respond to that request.
A Common Focus on Innovation
He said that the goals of the SBIR program and the NSF dovetailed nicely, because both entities focused on innovation. He described the vision of the NSF as enabling the nation’s future through discovery, learning, and innovation. Ten years ago, he said, that vision emphasized discovery. Since then, three objectives had become steadily more important: learning; the integration of research and education; and innovation.
The three strategic goals under this vision of research, education, and innovation were referred to simply as “people, ideas, and tools”—or, more fully expressed, to develop a world-class science and engineering workforce; to foster discovery at the frontiers of knowledge; and to develop the tools to get the job done. “People, ideas, and tools,” he said. “It’s as simple as that.” To accomplish each of those missions, he said, involved three strategic thrusts: building intellectual capital, integrating research and education, and promoting partnerships.
How SBIR Fits NSF’s Strategic Vision
He characterized the SBIR as an important partnership. He said, “It isn’t difficult to see that the SBIR fits NSF’s strategic vision to a ‘T’.” NSF invested approximately $85 million in the program each year, and the SBIR portfolio spanned nearly every directorate: engineering, bioscience, the physical and mathematical sciences, information and communication science, and even research and education itself. Because the SBIR team planned and coordinated the