SBIR and STTR Programs: The Private Sector, Public Sector and University Trifecta

By Ford, Bryan K.; Shino, Kathleen J. et al. | Journal of Research Administration, Spring 2008 | Go to article overview

SBIR and STTR Programs: The Private Sector, Public Sector and University Trifecta


Ford, Bryan K., Shino, Kathleen J., Sander, Erik, Hardin, J. Michael, Journal of Research Administration


Introduction

The landscape of research funding is changing in the 21st century. As it does, it is critical that university researchers collaborate with experienced entrepreneurs and funding sources to stay on the cutting edge of scientific progress. Within the United States, the entire process of university innovation to commercialization begins deep in university laboratories, where faculty, graduate students, and post-doctoral researchers engage in more than $40 billion of cutting edge research and development annually (National Science Foundation, 2006). However, the culture of the university often does not readily endorse quality research with rapid return on investment (ROI) through the traditional commercial process. The scientific community's endorsement of the quality of the research is provided through peer review of publications in leading journals and through attainment of leadership positions in the faculty member's relevant societies. In fact, most university research is years away from market readiness. It is a culture that is designed to be open, long-term, multidisciplinary, and focused on basic research.

The private sector on the other hand, has different cultural measures and outcomes. Corporate (industry) culture is more secretive and its research is typically shorter-term, lower risk, and focused on applied research for maximizing profits. This creates a cultural challenge for universities and private sector corporations that want to collaborate and transfer technology to the marketplace. General business development strategies are often ineffective in engaging a national audience of technology commercialization partners as the process of fully engaging with universities in research and technology transfer involves a clash of cultures and motivational factors that often stymies successfully transferring technologies to the private sector. Yet, university technology licensing to start-up companies is a growing phenomenon in the US and is funded by multiple sources. Approximately 600 new university spin-off companies are being formed annually. However, many university spin-off companies never recognize their full potential due to the management team's inexperience in fully utilizing university resources such as researchers and infrastructure to create maximum value, manage intellectual property issues and create shareholder wealth (NSF, 2006).

In 1982, the Federal government recognized the need to promote university spin-off companies and passed the Small Business Innovation Development Act. The Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs were created to "ensure that the nation's small, high-tech, innovative businesses are a significant part of the federal government's research and development efforts" by teaming private sector expertise and university cutting edge research with public sector funding (SBIR.gov, 2008, [paragraph] 1). In effect, the SBIR and STTR programs create a trifecta of resources to bring research to the marketplace. However, relatively few universities or private sector companies fully understand the programs or the process.

This article will enhance the reader's overall understanding of the commercialization process within a university to include a discussion of the advantages of participating in the SBIR/STTR programs, and to underscore the necessity of forming commercialization partnerships to maximize the potential for success of funded SBIRs/STTRs in Phase III.

NIH Small Business Innovation Research Grant, Phase I (R43) and Phase II (R44) and the Small Business Technology Transfer Research Grant Mechanisms Phase I (R41) and Phase II (R44)

The SBIR and STTR programs are distinct funding mechanisms for U.S. small business concerns (SBC) that are solicited within two annual "parent" NIH funding opportunity announcements (FOA), Program Announcements (PA), Requests For Applications (RFA), and Requests for Proposals (RFP), all of which notify the grantee/contract community of continuing, new, or expanded program interests for which grant applications are invited. …

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