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An Assessment of the SBIR Program at the Department of Energy
commercialization, an important element in assessing the degree to which SBIR programs successfully encourage commercialization.
The metrics for assessing commercialization can also be elusive, and it is important to understand that it is not possible to completely quantify all commercialization from a research project:
The multiple steps needed after the research has been concluded mean that a single, direct line between research inputs and commercial outputs rarely exists in practice; cutting edge research is only one contribution among many leading to a successful commercial product.
Markets themselves have major imperfections, or information asymmetries so high quality, even path breaking research, does not always result in commensurate commercial returns.
The lags involved in the timeline between an early stage research project and a commercial outcome mean that for a significant number of the more recent SBIR projects, commercialization is still in process, and sales—often substantial sales—will be made in the future. The current “total” sales are in this case just a “snapshot half way through the race,” and will require updating as the full impact of the award becomes apparent in sales.
Yet the impact of SBIR awards needs to be qualified. Research rarely results in stand-alone products. Often, the output from an SBIR project is combined with other technologies. The SBIR technology may provide a critical element in developing a winning solution, but that commercial impact—the sale of the larger combined product—is not captured in the data. In some cases, the full value of an “enabling technology” that can be used across industries is difficult to capture.
All this is to say that commercialization results must be viewed with caution, first because our ability to track them is limited (indeed it appears highly likely that our efforts at quantification of research awards may understate the true commercial impact of SBIR projects) and because an award and a successful project cannot lay claim to all subsequent commercial successes, though it may contribute to that success in a significant fashion.
These caveats notwithstanding, it is possible to deploy a variety of assessment techniques to measure commercialization outcomes. In this chapter, we review a number of metrics related to commercialization outcomes for DoE SBIR projects. These include project status, sales and licensing revenues, further investment, and employment effects.
4.2 PROJECT STATUS
Information developed from the NRC Phase II survey shows that project status varied considerably. Almost all of the DoE respondents had completed Phase II. Just over a third had discontinued Phase III activity, although nearly half