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Conclusion Mark Myers Xerox Corporation Dr. Myers began his closing observations by saying that, as a member of the STEP Board and an official of a large corporation, he had not approached the symposium with a strong point of view. However, he said the day contained "a very interesting and engaging set of conversations." He inferred from SBIR's strong support in both the Congress and the admin- istration that the program "plays well both inside and outside the Beltway." This broad-based support is earned, given SBIR's history of supporting not only the growth of jobs and the overall economy, but also the missions of participating agencies. Agency missions have been furthered by specific results of the program's R&D activities. He praised the SBIR's focus on technical merit and its consequent incorporation of competition and peer review, which he called "time-proven approaches to assure quality." The Need for More Research and Evaluation Nevertheless, the SBIR program's very significance underscores the need for more research on how it is working and how it should work. Dr. Myers looked to the dialogue that would follow from the symposium for amplification of these issues, and he emphasized the commitment of those in attendance, sug- gesting that it would not be hard to find less committed constituencies for pro- grams that enjoy a similar level of funding. Pointing out that the definition of "commercialization" has been ambiguous within the context of SBIR, he pointed 111
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2 THE SMALL BUSINESS INNOVATION AND RESEARCH PROGRAM to the need for clarification in view of the fact that it "seems to be a place where people stumble." Similarly, the participating agencies' autonomy in managing their versions of the SBIR program means that "on a de facto basis, there are 'multiple programs"' pursuing a variety of goals. Although the argument for diversity is strong, the program will be considered as a whole in the upcoming reauthorization and it must therefore make sense as a whole. The Need for Fast Decision-Making From the point of view of the commercial sector, Dr. Myers advised the audience, "everything you can do to speed up anything, the better off you are going to be." He acknowledged that the issue of timing could be a particularly problematic one in some areas of energy and in regulated industries such as health care. But he recalled that Hewlett-Packard, a $37 billion company, derives over 60 percent of its revenues from products that have been in the marketplace for only 18 months. Pointing out that the speed of product introduction is a basis of competition, he said speed defines what makes a technology "commercial," at least in the information technology sector. The Need for Small Business Capital Stressing the need for variety in funding sources for small business, Dr. Myers noted the SBIR program's role as an "alternative" funding source. He observed that SBIR funding is "patient" in that it does not have to be renewed annually, which has the value of enabling a sustained approach, at least for indi- vidual awarders. As for the level of SBIR resources, he recommended turning from the matter of what percentage of federal R&D funding the program should receive to the question: "Can the magnitude of $1.2 billion meaningfully grow to $2 billion?" Such an increase would raise further issues regarding management, assessment, and validation processes. The perception on the participating agencies' part that SBIR funding is a tax on their R&D budgets and competes with the interests arising directly from their missions will have to be addressed in any discussion of increasing the program's resources, or even of simply extending them through reauthorization. Another question that requires attention is the accountability of SBIR companies, Dr. Myers said. In particular, he recommended consideration be given to limiting awards to firms that had won previously but failed to commercialize. Speaking on behalf of the STEP, Dr. Myers placed the SBIR program firmly within the broad area of government-industry partnership projects that the Board is engaged in evaluating. He expressed the Board's appreciation to the attendees for their contributions to the day's discussion.