That assessment recommended more external evaluations. Subsequently, Congress, in renewing SBIR in December 2000, called on the National Research Council to assess the program at the five leading SBIR agencies that together represent 96 percent of total SBIR spending.6

This effort did not begin immediately, partly because it required approval of all the agencies, which agreed to the study parameters only in December 2001. Funding required for work to start was received in September 2002, and the first NRC conference was held in October 2002.

Noting that he had assembled an 18-member committee to oversee the study, he added that it is an outstanding and diverse group, representing all aspects of the program, including the venture capital community, many small firms and prime contractors. This committee also oversees the work of an exceptional research team. Methodologically, the study is using a variety of approaches, including multiple surveys, interviews, and nearly 100 case studies. It would draw from a sufficiently large and representative sample of more than 4,000 firms for the Phase II survey alone.

The NRC plans to produce five kinds of reports:

  • A report for Congress on program diversity and assessment challenges

  • A formal methodology report required by agencies

  • This report on the commercialization and Phase III challenges

  • A stand-alone report on SBIR at each of the five principal agencies

  • An overview of the program with findings and recommendations.

The first two reports, he said, had already been published.7 The first report documents the wide variety of differences in the SBIR program among the agencies and even within agencies. For example, the NIH SBIR program is highly research oriented, while the DoD SBIR program is focused more on the defense mission. The chair underscored that the purpose of the current study is not to determine whether the SBIR program should continue—Congress has decided that—but to understand what could be improved, to discover what would be best practice, and to disseminate this information more widely through the agencies so as to improve the program’s outcomes.


These agencies in decreasing order of size are the Department of Defense, the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Energy, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and the National Science Foundation. Together they accounted in 2005 for 96.7 percent of SBIR.


See National Research Council, SBIR: Program Diversity and Assessment Challenges, Charles W. Wessner, ed., Washington, D.C.: The National Academies Press, 2004. The Committee’s methodology report is published on the web. It is available at <>.

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