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Government/Industry/Academic Relationships for Technology Development: A Workshop Report
Macauley commented that, from a public policy perspective, multiple objectives of government were achieved here. One such objective is obtaining good, cost-effective, efficient technology. Another such objective is giving minorities and women opportunities they might not otherwise have had. She continued by saying that a mechanism such as a prize would not necessarily achieve these two objectives—a prize would not guarantee minority participation, for instance. Arguably the government could have obtained this technology in a more cost-effective and more efficient manner had there not been a program of this sort, but the government has more than one objective. She then asked Peninger to further explain the credit and reimbursable approaches. Peninger said that in a credit agreement there were no funds. It is not a BAA item. No contract is used. It is nothing more than an agreement that is made between a federal agency (like DOD or NASA), the mentor, and the protégé. The reimbursable approach seems to be more beneficial, especially for the protégé. For example, in the Coast/ACM partnership with Northrop Grumman, the Air Force contracted with Northrop Grumman Space Technology. Northrop Grumman then funded the university. Peninger went on to say that DOD evaluated the program quarterly. DOD wants to know if the technology transfer is actually happening. It is interested in Coast/ACM’s surface mount technology and its enablement of a lighter, cheaper aircraft.
Trimble commented that the partnership sounded like a long-term good idea. The Mentor-Protégé program, which is capturing technology of interest to the government and to small companies like Coast/ACM, makes a lot of sense. It rewards the smaller company beyond simply awarding it another contract. Peninger agreed and commented that in the long run the benefits spread across the board. The benefit is accruing not just to Northrop Grumman but also to Coast/ACM, which is learning new technology (e.g., learning about a reflow oven and how to work with ball grid arrays). Peninger said that most of the time, mentors in a mentor-protégé program were training the protégé. In the Coast/ACM case, however, the protégé was teaching the mentor key elements behind the wizardry of the magnetic component application on the ball grid array. Trimble characterized this as an example of removing stovepipes and working across disciplinary boundaries.
An attendee commented that the program also allowed small businesses to start gaining and disseminating the ability to manufacture hardware for aircraft or spacecraft, which was normally a very difficult thing for them to do. It is a mechanism that government and large companies can use to help small businesses take that transitional step, thereby spreading capabilities across the country.
Macauley asked if Peninger had participated in review programs or other mentor-protégé program activities and if those other efforts had worked as well as the Northrop Grumman effort. Peninger said he had participated in other programs and that some were not as effective. Effectiveness depends on the type of relationship developed. He compared it to a marriage. He also mentioned that small businesses have to worry about payroll and being reimbursed and cannot always afford the narrow, focused vision of a scientist. However, the focus of the Mentor-Protégé program is narrow. When Trimble asked if technology transfer from the large company to the small company was an integral part of the program, Peninger replied that it was. He mentioned, however, that DOD would not be involved if there were no benefit from its perspective.