Politics put SBIR funds in question


Small business groups expressed  concern and frustration  over the U.S. Senate’s failure Wednesday to pass the SBIR/STTR Reauthorization Act of 2011, which would continue federal funding for the Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer programs beyond the end of May.

“This cynical move is the latest in a series of political games that deny small businesses the tools they need to encourage innovation, economic growth and job creation,” John Arensmeyer, chief executive of Small Business Majority, a nonpartisan advocacy group, said in a statement. “We call on these obstructionists who claim to support small businesses to match their words with deeds and end the blockage of this vital legislation.”

The SBIR program, which is administered by the U.S. Small Business Administration, requires 11 federal departments and agencies to award a portion of their research and development funds to small businesses. In the past, SBIR awards have ranged from $100,000 for startups to explore the feasibility of an idea or new technology to $750,000 over two years to help small businesses bring a product or process to market, the Small Business Administration reported. In addition, five government departments participate in the STTR program. Together, the programs award $2 billion in grants each year to small businesses, according to a government website.

What’s more, the grants have  funded  breakthroughs in technology and product development. The SBIR program has led to more than 50,000 patents since the program’s enactment in 1982, Arensmeyer said. The highly-successful SBIR program is too critical to small business innovation for it to be the target of political gamesmanship, Todd McCracken, president of the National Small Business Association, a nonpartisan advocacy group, said in a statement.

Legislators are at odds over what proportion of the government funding could go to businesses controlled by venture capitalists, the Los Angeles Times reported. The Senate version of a funding bill would allow up to 25 percent of the awards be given to venture-capital controlled businesses, while the House version would set the limit at 45 percent, the Los Angeles Times said.