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An Assessment of the SBIR Program at the National Science Foundation
organization whose goal is to catalyze an entrepreneurial society.5 The conference showcased nearly 300 grantees to potential industrial strategic partners and venture capital investors. It also enabled one-on-one meetings of OII program officers with grantees, compensating at least in part for the general inability of program managers to conduct site visits to grantee companies due to a shortage of program administrative funding. At this conference, business and financial panels met, firms had poster presentations and maintained tables or booths, and the grantees made presentations grouped by industry sector.6
The NSF funds many very small, scientist-led firms that find commercialization quite challenging. OII’s strategic plan includes a number of additional initiatives aimed at firms needing assistance to encourage commercialization. OII hopes to: develop plans to work with incubators, business schools, and other resources; provide innovation management courses to grantees; revise Phase I requirements to include more commercial information upfront; bring more business reviewers into the Phase I process; and bring investors and corporate partners to grantee conferences and workshops. Thus, it appears that the NSF is formulating plans to continue and intensify strategies aimed at fostering commercialization.7
5.2 COMMERCIAL RESULTS
It seems clear that the NSF’s SBIR program intends for its grants to result in commercial goods and services. But how well is it doing in achieving this goal? In this section we examine evidence of commercial results drawn from five sources: (1) a survey of grantee firms that focuses on firm characteristics; (2) a survey of Phase II projects to focus on projects that went forward; (3) a survey of Phase I projects to find out why some projects did not continue into Phase II; (4) case studies of ten companies that received NSF SBIR grants; and (5) NSF-initiated data and analysis on commercialization. While each section following focuses on each of these sources in turn, to some extent findings from the various sources are interwoven.
5.2.1 Characteristics of SBIR-Funded Firms asIndicated by NRC Firm Survey Data
Influence of the SBIR program on Company Founding. The NRC Firm Survey found that 20 percent of 137 respondents attributed the founding of their
National Science Foundation, Office of Industrial Innovation, “SBIR/STTR Phase II Grantee Conference, Book of Abstracts,” May 18–20, 2006, Louisville, Kentucky.
In 2003 the NSF expanded the Phase I commercialization assistance program and awarded three-year contracts to Dawnbreaker, Inc., and Foresight Science & Technology. In a new contract competition in 2006, the NSF awarded three-year contracts to Dawnbreaker and Development Capital Networks (DCN).