WASHINGTON, April 26, 2007 – Today in a hearing, the Subcommittee on Technology and Innovation heard testimony from a panel of expert witnesses on the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program. Witnesses praised the program with examples of different technologies that have been developed through SBIR funding and also offered suggestions on how the program could be improved in the approaching reauthorization.
“I’m sure there are many people outside the federal government that are not familiar with the SBIR program,” said Subcommittee Ranking Member Phil Gingrey (R-GA). “However, I am here to tell you it is a hidden gem. Agencies give a percentage of their major federal R&D budget to support our country’s most groundbreaking and pioneering small businesses.
“Neural Signals is an example of one of the many SBIR success stories and is located in my home state of Georgia. Neural Signals allows severely paralyzed or locked-in individuals to control their personal computers via thought-control— eliminating completely the need for patient-initiated movement.”
The SBIR program was first established in 1982 to increase the participation of small, high technology firms in Federal research and development (R&D) activities. Small businesses are eligible for SBIR awards if they are independently owned and operated for-profit companies, not dominant in the field of research proposed, and employ fewer than 500 people.
The award competition is peer reviewed and highly competitive and awards are based on scientific, technical and commercial merit. From its inception in 1982 to 2005, over $18.9 billion in SBIR awards have been made for more than 88,800 research projects.
One of the witnesses, Mr. Anthony R. Ignagni, President and CEO of Synapse Biomedical Inc., spoke of advances by his company made possible by the SBIR program, saying, “Synapse’s involvement in the SBIR program has provided important support for continued innovation of our technology platform… Synapse is a small business. We have eight full-time employees and one part-time employee. We are actively sponsoring/conducting two pivotal device trials for application of our Diaphragm Pacing Stimulation System in spinal cord injury and Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis. We have recently made our first market application to the FDA for use of the device in spinal cord injury.”
Ignagni continued to note a decline in SBIR applications, saying, “A key purpose of the SBIR program, a public-private partnership, is to help entrepreneurs overcome many of the obstacles they face in developing new technologies. The SBIR program as originally designed does this, but its effectiveness is being hampered by the fact that many small businesses are deemed ineligible to participate in the SBIR program based on their financing structure.” He concluded, “The stimulation and sustaining of technological innovation will only be met if all companies regardless of how they are financed are able to apply for SBIR grants.”
Also testifying at today’s hearing were: Mr. Bruce J. Held, Director of the Force Development and Technology Program at the RAND Arroyo Center, The RAND Corporation; Mr. Jon Baron, Executive Director of the Coalition for Evidence-Based Policy, a program of the Council for Excellence in Government; Mr. Robert N. Schmidt, Founder and Chairman of Cleveland Medical Devices Inc, and Orbital Research Inc; and Dr. Gary McGarrity, Executive Vice President of Scientific and Clinical Affairs of VIRxSYS Corporation.