The battle lines are drawn. Let us not be seduced into thinking the skirmish over eligibility rules is the main conflict. I reiterate:
This is not about protecting the little guy!
This is about preserving SBIR as a source for seed-capital!
This is about retaining the ability of the United States to lead the world in innovation. There are precious few resources available to support early stage research & development, especially by those unaffiliated with a university or large corporation. Yet this is the work that truly pushes the envelope, that tests unproven theories, that alters not only the answers but the questions themselves.
This is principally about IDEAS! Profits and jobs are secondary. What opportunities, besides SBIR, are there for individuals to prove or falsify an idea, with the potential to transform a field or remedy a yet-unsolved quandary? The greatest beauty of SBIR is its ability to water those kernels, until they sprout or wither; and to render those that sprout into a test crop on a couple of acres.
The battle is here: will SBIR remain an open competition among innovative ideas, fought on their own merits and their potential to rapidly outgrow their government sponsors or not?
The real battle is about:
- keeping award sizes appropriate (the Senate's proposal of capping Phase I at $150k and Phase II at $1m does that: the House proposals do not!)
- ensuring the integrity of the merit-based open competition--no earmarks, or loopholes that will lead to them; no special preferences for groups (this is a competition of ideas to solve problems!);
- retaining access to small awards for a large number of projects to get off the ground--no to free-reign for multiple sequential Phase IIs; no to jumbo awards; yes to increasing the allocation percentage (S.1233 calls for a very modest increase from 2.5% to 3.5% graduated over 10 years).
The issues are simple. Will the Conference Committee, tasked with hammering out a resolution between these widely divergent reauthorization bills, work to support and sustain innovation, or abdicate that responsibility? Only time shall tell.