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SBIR Program Diversity and Assessment Challenges: Report of a Symposium
ACHIEVEMENTS, OPPORTUNITIES, AND CHALLENGES
Jo Anne Goodnight
National Institutes of Health
Ms. Goodnight introduced herself as the SBIR/STTR coordinator for the National Institutes of Health (NIH). She expressed her pleasure at having the opportunity to participate in this symposium to discuss the “congressionally mandated, comprehensive study of the SBIR program.” She said she would discuss the achievements and goals of the SBIR program, the role the small business research community plays in the mission of the NIH, and the opportunities and challenges of the upcoming SBIR study.
NIH is comprised of 27 institutes and centers, 23 of which participate in the SBIR program. Each of the components that awards SBIR grants has a mandate with well-defined priorities that address science and health issues from a specific perspective, such as minority health issues, health disparities, particular disease areas, such as cancer, and broader areas of concern, such as aging. Because NIH is primarily a granting organization, about 95 percent of its SBIR awards are made through its grant mechanism. Some 4 to 5 percent of awards are made by contract and a few are made through cooperative agreements.
The individual institutes and centers of the NIH develop topics that relate to their missions and could be considered “NIH-generated ideas.” But NIH also seeks to encourage “investigator-initiated” ideas that fall within the mission of any of the awarding components.
The NIH mission, she said, is to improve human health through biomedical and behavioral research, research training, and communications. In carrying out this mission, the NIH supports basic, applied, and clinical research to better understand the complex processes underlying human health and to acquire new knowledge that will help prevent, diagnose, and treat human diseases and disabilities.
“From the Test Tube to the Medicine Cabinet”
The SBIR program plays an integral role in the NIH mission, said Ms. Goodnight, particularly the goal of translating scientific findings from concept to societal benefit. She said that one might think of this process as “moving from the test tube to the medicine cabinet.” Small technology firms are prolific innovators which are recognized as unique resources not only for the development of enabling technologies, but also for creating “disruptive technologies”—those that displace entrenched techniques and have the potential to create new industries.
She said that SBIR is a perfect program to allow the entrepreneurial research community to “go out on a limb and challenge paradigms.” In the health arena, disruptive technologies are often capable of changing the landscape of health care. Because of these technologies, for example, nurse practitioners, general