Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Kosher Pork?

I received a call today from a regional purveyor of business support services to small R&D businesses like mine. The CEO had been referred to me by a couple trusted advisors (two who had helped me along with my first SBIR Phase I proposal, and since). The call was to set up a meeting for later in the year to discuss the services they might be able to offer my company. What's been indicated to me is that they help small businesses like mine to obtain Congressional "plus-ups" to support Phase II+ and Phase III stage R&D.

Clearly, I'm interested in propelling my company ahead. I am committed to the research, and believe firmly in its potential to reach the broader commercial market. Importantly, I also believe that the results and products of this R&D will have a positive impact on people's lives. Else, I wouldn't be in this business in the first place. But something raises my hackles. It sure sounds to me like I'd be soliciting earmarks from Congress, pork in other words.

Now, I'm open to hearing what's on the table, what services they might offer my firm, what benefits might accrue. I don't want to be too hasty in judgment. Underlying the effort (at least in theory) is a desire to identify specific needs of particular agencies and to fill those needs with the R&D that we are best poised to offer. But part of my dilemma (as I've written before) is that I believe in a merit-based review process.

I fear that in pursuing the private interests of my firm (with horse blinders on), I might be violating a fundamental principle that I wish to uphold. The question (for me as for the Nation) is how to accomplish great things without sacrificing principles to get there. Do well by doing good, not the other way around.

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