“In public Congress hugs them, in private they mug them!” So said the late Milt Stewart, one of the architects of the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Program in the 1980s and a renowned advocate for America’s small businesses.
I first met Milt in 1992 and eagerly joined forces with him and others from business and government to generate more research opportunities for America’s small businesses – then and now, the most potent force for innovation and job creation on the planet.
Unfortunately, small business continues to get what Fred Patterson, echoing Milt Stewart, calls the "Huggem-Muggem": lots of lip service but very little productive legislative action that facilitates their creation of jobs.
Case in point is the current plight of the SBIR program, which has received considerable bi-partisan support in the Congress for more than 25 years. The Senate of the 111th Congress wanted to reauthorize the SBIR but their counterparts in the House leadership played the old "Huggem-Muggem" game.
The outgoing Chairman of the House Small Business Committee, Nydia Velazquez (D-NY), blocked all efforts to openly debate many Small Business Administration (SBA) initiatives, including the SBIR Program, before her committee. The incoming committee chair, Sam Graves (R-MO), has previously aligned with her to thwart SBIR reauthorization. Their opposition to reauthorization appears to center on the fact that companies which are majority-owned by venture capital firms are now ineligible to apply for SBIR funds.
The National Small Business Association puts the facts on the line. “Despite the remarkable achievements of SBIR, federal R&D funding is still skewed against small businesses. Today, small R&D companies employ 38 percent of all scientists and engineers in America. This is more than all U.S. universities and more than all large businesses. Furthermore, these small companies produce five times as many patents per dollar as large companies and 20 times as many as universities—and more small-business innovations are commercialized. Yet small companies receive only 4.3 percent of the federal government’s R&D dollars. The SBIR program provides more than half of this amount.”
If our country is serious about innovation, competitiveness and job creation it makes sense that we put our resources where they have the most impact. Instead, we are served up the same old tired "Huggem-Muggem" game by those who profess to be advocates for small business.
I've said it before, and will say it again- instead of weakening the SBIR program we should be doubling, if not tripling, our country’s investment in the program. At a minimum a $5 billion SBIR program should be put in place. It will give us much more job growth than the Treasury bailouts of domestic banks and, as we now know, foreign banks too. The SBIR program represents both what America wants and needs in these times of economic stress: job growth driven by small business innovation.
Delore Zimmerman is President of Praxis Strategy Group and publisher of newgeography.com