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An Assessment of the SBIR Program at the National Science Foundation
narrower in scope without the NSF SBIR grant. Most also said their projects would have been delayed without the NSF SBIR grant. (For more details, see Table 5.2-8.)
Testing Ideas and Building Capacity. The case studies provided concrete examples of how the NSF’s SBIR program has enabled small businesses to: test creative ideas; develop new capabilities and build capacity; grow intellectual property; gain additional market credibility; and use that enhanced credibility to attract further investment funding while maintaining control of their firms until technical progress enabled them to form more effective partnerships. (These points are discussed further in Section 5.2.4 and Appendix D.)
Conducting High-Risk Research. There is evidence that the projects funded were desirably characterized by high technical risk. Technical failure or difficulties were frequently given as a reason by NSF SBIR grantees for not moving to the Phase II stage and for discontinuing Phase II projects once begun. The risk profile of projects is significant to knowledge creation because overcoming challenging scientific and technical hurdles associated with high technical risk is synonymous with increasing the knowledge base. (For more on the technical riskiness of projects, see Sections 5.2.2 and 5.2.3, and Table 5.2-9.)
Increasing the Program’s Knowledge Outputs May Be Possible. It appears that the NSF’s SBIR program tends to represent “broader impact” as synonymous with “direct commercial sales” and may not place sufficient emphasis on the encouragement of publishing and other modes of knowledge dissemination by the funded projects. It is recognized that encouragement of knowledge dissemination must occur within the constraints of companies needing to protect their ability to commercialize. Nonetheless, it appears that the NSF’s SBIR program may be able to increase knowledge outputs from the program by signaling to grantees that it places a high value on knowledge outputs, such as publications, papers, presentations, and patents, in addition to commercial outputs. At the same time, it appears that the program is producing knowledge outputs and therefore has the opportunity to compile data on knowledge outputs comprehensively and systematically as part of an improved data collection plan. (See Sections 7.1.2 and 7.2.)
NSF SBIR program funding is closely aligned with the NSF’s broadermission and is contributing broadly to federal research and development procurement needs. The program serves as a means of: