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An Assessment of the SBIR Program at the Department of Energy
Forty-eight percent of the respondents reported some sales, with 18 percent reporting sales of over $850,000 (a threshold value chosen as the total public funds awarded in a Phase I and Phase II, combined).16
Although many companies received Phase III funding, little or none of this funding came from DoE itself. A longtime DoE SBIR program manager could not recall one instance in which DoE has funded Phase III with non-SBIR funds as a follow-on to the research performed in Phases I and II.17 DoE SBIR staff report that, during the interval covered by the study, many DoE Technical Project Monitors (TPMs) were unaware that SBIR technologies can be procured through a noncompetitive process in Phase III.
One reason for this information gap was that no systematic process existed for continually disseminating this information to DoE technical programs. On about 10-15 occasions, the aforementioned program manager provided DoE technical program managers with documentation to show that the law and the SBA Policy Directive allowed, even encouraged, agencies to make Phase III awards to the SBIR company on a sole source basis. However, he was not aware that such follow-on funding ever resulted from these efforts. (Phase III funding from DoE can occur without the knowledge of the SBIR office; for example, Phase III funding from national laboratories or DoE offices could be administered directly by the technical programs, without informing the SBIR office.)
8.11.4 Recognizing Success
DoE recognizes the success of SBIR firms in a number of ways. The agency maintains and updates a broad selection of commercially successful SBIR-funded technologies on its SBIR Web site (<http://www.science.DoE.gov/sbir>). The Web site also identifies DoE SBIR awardees who have received the prestigious R&D 100 Award.
No data exist (self-reported or other) that would inform us regarding the extent to which SBIR funds were critical in the development of the products in question. Furthermore, it is possible that firms have an incentive to inflate these figures, and no obvious incentive to underreport “success” in commercialization in a survey of this variety. Although It is also possible that the lack of perfect institutional memory in small, dynamic firms could lead to systematic underreporting.
The norm in the fossil energy and environmental offices is to work with very large companies, mostly on a cost-sharing basis. SBIR projects involving the development of instrumentation may an exception. One company reported a number of instances in which DoE Office of Health and Environmental Research (OHER, now the Office of Biological and Environment Research) provided Phase III funding for the use of instruments developed with SBIR funds in environmental fields.