Senator Mary L. Landrieu
What do the B-2 Bomber pilot-alert system, a cellphone and the Sonicare power toothbrush have in common? Each includes cutting-edge technologies developed by small companies with support from the Small Business Innovation Research program — the federal government’s largest research and development grant programs for small businesses.
Every second, someone picks up a cellphone to make a call or send a text. But that wouldn’t be possible without the technology created by a company, Qualcomm, which set up shop in the den of its founder, Irwin Jacobs, in San Diego.
Starting with fewer than 35 employees, Qualcomm revolutionized mobile communication by combining voice service with Internet and e-mail access.
Helped by a $1.5 million SBIR award, Qualcomm now employs more than 17,500 people worldwide, with $80 billion in profits.
But Qualcomm’s success reached far beyond the company. Its regional economic impact was roughly $5.5 billion in 2007 alone, according to the San Diego Chamber of Commerce. Even more impressive, Qualcomm pays approximately $1 billion in taxes each year. That’s almost half the cost of this entire federal program.
Success stories like Qualcomm can be found across the country. It’s because of this public-private partnership that some of the most innovative small-business ideas have helped restore local economies, boost job creation and increase competiveness at home and abroad.
Since this program was created in 1982, nearly 90,000 small, high-tech businesses have competed for and won $28 billion in awards — a small but important part of the federal government’s research and development budget. President Barack Obama recognizes the important role that research and development plays in our economic recovery and job creation efforts. Small-business contributions are vital for maintaining America’s reputation as an innovative, competitive nation.
So why make a fuss over a small-business program? Statistics speak for themselves — small businesses produce 13 times more patents than large businesses and employ 40 percent of America’s scientists and engineers.
It doesn’t stop there. Small-business patents are twice as likely to be among the top 1 percent of high-impact patents. Studies have shown that SBIR-backed firms are responsible for 25 percent of the nation’s most crucial innovations in the past decade and account for 38 percent of America’s patents.
Patents are a better indicator of wealth creation than even education. It just makes sense that we would continue this important federal program. It is one that works.
Today, 11 federal agencies, including the Department of Defense, the National Institutes of Health and the Department of Agriculture, allocate a small part of their budgets to small-business research and development projects. Since fall 2008, potential SBIR award recipients have faced uncertainty about funding,with numerous short-term extensions, while negotiations for long-term security hit ideological roadblocks.
After months of negotiations and compromise, Congress is poised to begin debate on an eight-year reauthorization. Even with compromises from the key negotiators — the Biotechnology Industry Organization and the Small Business Technology Coalition — the SBIR reauthorization continues to have the support of the National Small Business Association, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Federation of Independent Businesses, the National Venture Capital Association, and universities and technology groups across the country.
No other SBIR reauthorization bill in Congress has had the support of all these organizations. The Senate bill, co-sponsored by Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) and me, reflects this compromise. If passed, it will continue to contribute every day to innovation and job creation throughout our country.
It is time to let these small businesses make their big impact on the world.
Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) is chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship.