How the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Program Matters

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1 How the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Program Matters Department of Economics Working Paper Series Albert N. Link University of North Carolina at Greensboro John T. Scott Dartmouth College June 2012 Working Paper

2 How the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Program Matters Albert N. Link Department of Economics University of North Carolina at Greensboro John T. Scott Department of Economics Dartmouth College

3 Abstract This note describes several performance characteristics of the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program. The numerical examples are based on our analysis of the 1,878 randomly selected projects conducted at firms that responded to the 2005 National Research Council survey. The data show that firms receiving SBIR funding are able to overcome the initial technology-based hurdles that small, entrepreneurial firms frequently face, thus facilitating a more permanent and possibly longer-term employment growth. Keywords: Small Business Innovation Research program, R&D, employment growth JEL codes: O31, L26 2

4 How the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Program Matters The Small Business Innovation Development Act of 1982 created the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program to stimulate technological innovation, to use small businesses of 500 or fewer employees to meet federal R&D needs, to foster and encourage participation of minority and disadvantaged persons in technological innovation, and to increase private sector commercialization of innovations derived from federal R&D. In 1983 this set-aside program totaled $45 million. The SBIR program grew to nearly $2 billion by 2008 when Congress failed to reauthorize it. Since then, it has continued through consecutive multi-month extensions; however, it was reauthorized at the end December 2011 for another six years. In 2000, Congress mandated that the National Research Council (NRC) conduct an evaluation of the economic benefits achieved by the SBIR program and make recommendations to Congress for improvements to the program. Part of that evaluation exercise involved an extensive survey in 2005 of more than 6,000 Phase II projects made between 1992 and 2001 by the Department of Defense (DoD), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Department of Energy (DOE), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and the National Science Foundation (NSF). 1 In this note we describe several performance characteristics of the SBIR program based on our analysis of the 1,878 randomly selected projects conducted at firms that responded to the NRC survey. DoD and NIH are the largest SBIR funding agencies as shown in Table 1. 1 The objective of a Phase II project is to continue scientific and technically-successful Phase I pilot studies. For the sampled projects, typically the Phase II studies lasted for not more than two years and were capped at $750,000. 3

5 Table 1. SBIR Awards by Funding Agency, Fiscal Year 2005 Agency SBIR Awards in 2005 Percent Allocation DoD $942,767, % NIH $562,089, % DOE $103,610, % NASA $103,198, % NSF $79,155, % All others $60,210, % $1,851,031,445 Source: Link and Scott (2012), Table 2.1, p. 25. The SBIR program generally funds projects that firms would not have undertaken because of their risk and uncertainty and other barriers to innovation such as limited access to scientific equipment. When an awarded firm was asked if it would have undertaken the funded research project in the absence of its SBIR award, respondents generally said no. Table 2 shows that over 60% of those surveyed responded probably not or definitely not ; and less than 20% responded probably yes or definitely yes to this counterfactual question. Table 2. Would the Research Be Performed without SBIR Support? DoD NIH NASA DOE NSF Response Definitely yes 3.04% 5.03% 2.70% 0% 3.31% Probably yes 9.61% 7.69% 15.32% 3.51% 12.40% Uncertain 17.71% 13.61% 14.41% 13.16% 18.18% Probably not 32.72% 27.81% 35.14% 44.74% 42.15% Definitely not 36.93% 45.86% 32.43% 38.60% 23.97% Source: Link and Scott (2012), Table 3.4, p. 41. Commercialization is an explicit objective of the SBIR program. Table 3 shows, by agency, the average predicted probability of commercialization, as determined from econometric models, of SBIR projects. Despite barriers to innovation faced by small firms, the probability is somewhat less than a 50 percent chance of success. 4

6 Table 3. Probability of Commercialization Agency Average Predicted Probability of Commercialization DoD 44.80% NIH 49.57% NASA 46.79% DOE 49.28% NSF 47.91% Source: Link and Scott (2010), Table 11, p Although not an explicit objective of the SBIR program, policy discussions related to the current reauthorization of the program focused on employment effects. 2 The direct, short-term employment effects attributable to SBIR funding are small. That is, as shown in Table 4, the number of employees retained as a result of the technology developed during the funded project is typically less than 2. Table 4. Direct Short-Term Employment Effects Employees Employees 3-4 Employees 5-10 Employees >10 Employees Agency DoD 44.0% 36.3% 10.5% 6.8% 2.5% NIH 41.2% 37.9% 12.3% 6.4% 2.3% NASA 52.3% 34.2% 7.1% 3.9% 2.6% DOE 45.0% 37.9% 11.4% 5.0% 0.7% NSF 41.1% 34.0% 12.8% 7.8% 4.3% Source: Link and Scott (2012), Table 4.1, p. 46. However, the longer-run impact of SBIR funding on the overall employment growth of awardrecipient firms (as opposed to the employment growth of the firm s funded project Table 4) is substantial. Table 5 shows the average long-run SBIR-induced employment gain is over 25, and the average employment gain per $million awarded is over See, for example, Link (2011). 5

7 Table 5. Overall Employment Impacts from SBIR Award Agency Average Employment Gain Average Employment Gain per $million Awarded DoD NIH NASA DOE Source: Link and Scott (2012), Table 5.4, p. 76. Note: Employment gains were measured among NSF funded projects, but those gains were less than the gains predicted in the absence of an SBIR award. The numbers in Tables 4 and 5 show that firms receiving the SBIR funding are able to overcome the initial technology-based hurdles that small, entrepreneurial firms frequently face, thus facilitating a more permanent and possibly longer-term employment growth. 6

8 References Link, Albert N. (2011). Small Business Innovation Research Program, Testimony before the U.S. House of Representatives, Committee on Small Business, April 7. < Link, Albert N. and John T. Scott (2010). Government as Entrepreneur: Evaluating the Commercialization Success of SBIR Projects, Research Policy 39: Link, Albert N. and John T. Scott (2012). Employment Growth from Public Support of Innovation in Small Firms, Kalamazoo, MI: W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research. 7

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