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Dr. Bordogna's Remarks


"SBIR: Strategic Investment in the Nation's Future"

Dr. Joseph Bordogna
Deputy Director
Chief Operating Officer
Symposium on the Small Business Innovation Research
Program: Measuring the Outcomes
National Research Council

October 24, 2002

Good afternoon to you all. I'm delighted to be here at the Academy to take part in this symposium on the Small Business Innovation Research program.

As an investment in the nation's future, the SBIR program merits our most thoughtful attention and evaluation.

The National Science Foundation welcomes this opportunity to join the other members of the SBIR team to provide an initial overview of the SBIR program.

I emphasize "our team" because the program is a collective endeavor. (By the way, the SBA has been a key partner on this team as well.)

We have worked long and hard to develop a seamless 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 course, is to foster technological innovation across a wide range of research areas that are important priorities for the nation.

But what sets the SBIR program apart from many others, is its focus on developing the particular talent and capabilities of the small business community to take innovation to the market.

Turning technological advances into commercial products, processes and services is absolutely central to the SBIR program. This brings a new set of players onto the field.

The planned study is a splendid opportunity to take a look at the SBIR program in its full complexity.

A comprehensive review will enable us to make improvements in performance, fine tune implementation, and help us with our planning vision as we move forward.

Most of you know that the seeds for the SBIR program were sown nearly 25 years ago when NSF initiated a small business innovation pilot program.

Innovation is at the core of what we are about at NSF, and our vision statement reflects that. It's direct and crisp: "enabling the nation's future through discovery, learning, and innovation."

Our three strategic goals are outcomes at the core of the research, education and innovation enterprise. We refer to them simply as: People, Ideas and Tools - developing a world class science and engineering workforce, fostering discovery at the frontiers of knowledge, and developing the tools to get the job done.

To accomplish these goals, we ensure that each of our investments builds intellectual capital, integrates research and education, and promotes partnerships.

It isn't difficult to see that the SBIR program fits NSF's strategic vision to a tee. We now invest approximately $85M in the program each year.

Our SBIR portfolio spans nearly every Directorate at NSF - from engineering to biosciences, to the physical and mathematical sciences, to the information and communication sciences, and education research. Because the SBIR team plans and coordinates investments, the majority of these NSF grants meet the needs of other agencies, not just NSF's.

Let me emphasize that this is a program we value highly. SBIR fills a significant niche that no other program addresses.

With that preamble in mind, I want to step back for a minute and take a long view of the SBIR program.

My colleagues have already provided you with insightful detail on SBIR. I'm going to give you a "big picture" perspective. From that viewpoint, we can see certain patterns emerging from the details.

In many ways, the value of the program and its distinctive role is best understood in the context of large-scale transformations that are taking place in our nation's research and innovation enterprise.

These transformations have opened new frontiers of knowledge, changed the process of research and innovation, and increased the complexity of science, engineering, and technological development.

They have accelerated the pace of discovery and innovation, and greatly increased and expanded competition.

To evaluate SBIR properly, we have to understand this rapidly evolving context. That's a tall order, but it's also an exciting prospect.

The study could be a revolutionary chart of the new paths we will follow into the 21st century. Let me elaborate on these themes.

Over the past decade, change has literally transformed our institutions, and has forced us to take new directions in business, in research, in science and engineering, and in education.

One source of this transformation is the extraordinary outpouring of new knowledge that has occurred over the past decade.

New knowledge, the result of advances in science and engineering, is now a key force driving technological innovation. Innovation in turn creates new jobs and wealth, spawns new industries, and grows economies.

Where we once thought of productivity in terms of work per laborer, we now increasingly must also think of the productivity of knowledge and knowledge workers.

Moving from knowledge to innovation, and on to commercialization, at increasing speeds, is now the norm.

It's no wonder, then, that the capacity to create and use new knowledge is seen in both the private and public sectors as the best path to economic prosperity and a higher quality of life.

We once thought of this process as a simple, although protracted, linear progression - from research, to development, to market. That's no longer the case.

Not only can scientific and engineering research drive technological innovation, but it can also happen the other way around.

Innovation can spur the search for new knowledge and create the context in which the next generation of research identifies new frontiers.

A driving force in these transformations has been the revolution in information and communication technologies.

These have opened the floodgates for new knowledge and technological innovation across the entire spectrum of science and engineering.

Genomics and the biotechnology industry are only one example. The budding field of nanotechnology is likely to be another.

For the first time we have the capability to investigate highly complex phenomena, and that has led many scientists, engineers, technologists and entrepreneurs to work across different disciplines and sectors.

We look ahead to exquisite but practical improvements in everything from drug delivery systems to renewable energy resources.

Our new information and communication tools have also raised the bar on competition worldwide, and accelerated the pace of change even further.

New knowledge is accessible anywhere in the world, and at nearly instantaneous speeds. The capacity to create and employ knowledge resides in an ever growing, globally linked community.

Competition is heightened, but so is our ability to address national and global needs.

All of these changes have contributed to a blossoming of partnerships designed to facilitate the innovation process. Multidisciplinary research has brought together teams of researchers, while competition has spurred the formation of new alliances among business enterprises.

Most important, collaborations among universities, businesses, and government are thriving.

The federal government has provided strong leadership here. For much more than a decade, we have been advocating public-private partnerships in federal research and development.

Slowly we took steps to form genuine working arrangements. Further down the path, we have begun to see significant results.

Now we understand that discovery and innovation rarely happen without partnerships.

They bring to the table participants with different expertise and resources, and a diversity of perspectives.

As our products, processes, problems, and solutions continue to increase in complexity, our need for a diversity of combinations and partners will grow as well.

We will also find that our partnerships will become more inclusive - one of the aims of the SBIR program.

Collaboration among academe, government, labor and industry, in all the various combinations, is a powerful way to ensure that the two-way road between the research laboratory and the world of commerce stays open and engaged.

Corporations and universities have had to reinvent themselves - over and over again to remain responsive to innovation. So has government! Partnerships have been reshaped and new ones devised.

The SBIR program (and its close cousin the STTR program) fit this model to a tee.

It arose from a genuine need to enable small businesses to bring their own capabilities and talents to the innovation table, and to harness this potential to speed commercialization of new technologies.

Reaping the harvest of innovation is central to our future, and it is really a revolutionary idea. Let me explain.

We all understand the idea is that universities and their science and engineering faculty and students are critical resources.

They can make a valuable contribution to economic development in the 21st century - much the same way that agricultural, industrial and natural resources did in the 20th century.

But the same is true for entrepreneurs and small businesses. They make a critical contribution of their own to economic development by bringing technology intensive, often risky, innovations to the commercial market. Hence, SBIR!

Today, SBIR has matured, with many successes on the record. You've heard about some, and you will hear about another in just a few minutes when Dr. Greg Olson speaks.

The program has stimulated an unprecedented level of collaboration. SBIR grantees have not just partnered with federal agencies. They have found a number of ways to collaborate with universities - through contracts, consultancies, and the use of students.

SBIR has also required collaboration among federal agencies. Algorithmic handbooks for this do not exist. No maps or charts were at hand to take us unerringly to our desired destination.

We had to develop trust, learn to work as a team, and reach broad consensus on objectives and strategies. This is not an easy task among federal agencies with widely varying missions.

In the end, we built a productive team that turned the SBIR program into an integrated national program.

We found the common ground from which to implement a balanced program of support for small business innovation research in the interests of the commonweal.

The distinct missions of each agency are embedded and linked in a larger strategic context shared by all.

This integration of agency aims within a common framework enables us to agree on significant opportunities, and make coordinated investments.

The lesson to take away is that we need to keep our eye on the larger context.

Our challenge now is to optimize our collaboration in ways that will continue to strengthen the capability of small businesses to bring innovations to market.

At the same time, we need to remain flexible enough to respond to the evolving context. This study can make a great contribution to these aims.

The study is also an excellent opportunity for us to learn more about the evolving role of small businesses.

Our world is increasingly technology intensive and internationally competitive. We need to know much more about how small business concerns mesh with our changing economy and with globalization.

And finally, we need to know if we are doing all we can to top their potential to meet our emerging social needs.


Whether we welcome it or not, the outpouring of new knowledge and the pace of technological change is unlikely to lessen anytime soon.

We haven't seen the end of the information revolution and we're only beginning to feel the impact of biotechnology.

New technologies are already visible on the horizon.

Nanotechnology, for example, is likely to create reverberations that many believe will make the information revolution seem insignificant. New technologies, as yet unimagined, will emerge as these mature.

It is useful to remind ourselves that the context and environment in which we have to operate will always change and so will the competition.

Part of building a continuum of success in science, engineering, technology and business is retaining the ability to "see" and act upon a changing context.

Few envisioned the significance of information systems and the revolution being created by the biotechnology industry.

Now these two industries are responsible for the lion's share of U.S. economic growth. We can begin to calculate the impact of our new technologies on economic and social prosperity.

There is a great challenge here for the nation in the next few decades.

We must understand that supremacy in research, in innovation, and in competitive entrepreneurship is an enduring quest, an on-going process.

There is no peak that we can reach that will assure continuing success. It is not a matter of sticking to the task for the long haul. It is the "haul."

We will always need to keep improving the process with fresh ideas and a fundamental commitment.

The study can help us to focus on this challenge and take us beyond.



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