Comparison with Early-stage Venture Capital

Finally, SBIR might be compared with venture capital (VC) activities, but there are important differences. VC funding is typically supplied later in the development cycle when innovations are in, or close, to market. Indeed, most venture investments are made with the expectation of an exit from the company within three years. VC investments are also typically larger than SBIR awards. In 2007, the median investment made by VC firms in a company was $7.6 million, compared to less than $1 million for a NASA SBIR over a two to three year cycle.4 VC investments are also focused on companies, not projects, and often come both with substantial management support and influence (such as through seats on the company’s board).

Multiple Metrics

The lack of direct comparators means that multiple metrics must be deployed, using a wide array of information sources.5 This is what the NRC Committee has done:

  • The NRC Phase II Survey covers every firm that received a Phase II award between 1992 and 2001 inclusive.

  • The NRC Phase I Survey covers projects that failed to proceed beyond Phase I.

  • The NRC Project Manager Survey.

  • Case Studies commissioned by the NRC Committee provide context and illustration, in addition to user perspectives of the program.

  • Interviews with agency staff both within and outside the SBIR program office, as well as other experts inform the Committee’s findings.

  • NASA Databases, in particular the NASA awards database, as well as a NASA outcomes assessment, have provided basic information about the program.6

While the surveys broke important ground, and provided a central base of information on which considerable parts of the assessment are based, it is important to note that surveys of innovation awards can suffer from several forms of survey bias. These issues are discussed in Box 4-1.


2007 saw some 2,648 deals, with an overall capital investment of $29.9 billion, according to data from National Venture Capital Association. See <>.


For a more detailed discussion of the methodology, see National Research Council, An Assessment of the Small Business Innovation Research Program—Project Methodology, op. cit.


Access the NASA Commercialization Metrics Survey at <>.

The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement