To this end, he said, subcommittees of the steering group were planned for each agency. At the same time, it would be important for all members to have an overview of all the agencies. “The study panel and steering committee also need ‘cross-pollination’,” he said, “and in the overall activity we need to be able to see the big picture and its effectiveness and value to the nation.” He said the panel would look for best practices to draw on, pointing at the effectiveness of DoE in doing “so much in three months.”
He concluded that “this is going to require a great deal of input from a lot of people,” and that it was a “challenging kind of mission, and always has been—how you demonstrate the value of an R&D project.” He said that it was never possible to do so with precision, but it was possible at least to design better approaches.
Coalition for Evidence-Based Policy
Mr. Baron noted that the symposium had heard examples of “the program at its best, of technology from companies whose SBIR-developed products have contributed to our lives in important ways.” He referred to the cases of Martek Biosciences and Advanced Technology Materials. Technology developed by the latter company, he said, made it possible to transport toxic gases safely and avoid the need to evacuate whole communities should a transport truck crash.
He said that a company needed to have two types of skills to develop such life-improving innovations. The first is technical expertise—that is, the ability to develop a sound technical idea and to carry out high-quality research. The other skill is entrepreneurship, the ability to translate a good idea into a prototype, to describe its commercial value in a compelling way to potential investors or customers, and ultimately to convert it into a commercially-successful product sold to commercial or military customers. These two steps required different skills, he said. Government, through the SBIR program, was good at evaluating the first skill—technical capability. But the government was not as good at identifying companies with the second skill—commercialization, and many agencies did not even attempt to find and fund true entrepreneurs who have that skill.
Addressing the importance of entrepreneurial talent, he said that a typical venture capital firm preferred to bet on first-rate management than on first-rate technology. This approach is substantially different from that of a government agency, he said. Instead of expecting this function from government, he suggested, it might be more effective to develop proxies or certain techniques that add this function. As examples he mentioned further investigation of the NSF