Ms. HIRONO. Mr. Speaker, I rise today to introduce three bills that will strengthen the existing Small Business Innovation Research Program and the Small Business Technology Program by increasing the percentage of federal funding that goes to these important programs and increasing the size of the grants, which have significantly declined in real value since they were last authorized. The bills are H.R. 448, the Small Business Innovation Enhancement Act; H.R. 447, the SBIR Enhancement Act; and H.R. 449, the SBTT Enhancement Act.
Small companies, like Cellular Bioengineering, Oceanit, and Archinoetics in Hawaii are a source of great innovative talent. However, too many great ideas never come to fruition because small entrepreneurial firms lack the resources they need to test an idea and bring it to fruition. The Small Business Innovation Research, SBIR, Program and the Small Business Technology Transfer, SBTT, Program have proven track records.
The SBIR Program, for instance, has awarded some $16 billion in awards since 1983. Some 1.45 million people are employed in SBIR firms and these firms have 450,000 employees with graduate degrees in engineering and science--more than all U.S. academic institutions combined.
However, the number of new firms entering into the SBIR program has declined drastically in recent years. Part of the reason is the difficulty in applying for grants and the fact that the grant maximum amount for Phase I of the program was limited to $100,000. My bill doubles that amount to $200,000. Phase I funding is used to explore the scientific, technical, and commercial feasibility of an idea or technology.
Phase II funding, previously limited to a maximum of $750,000, is increased to $1.5 million in my bill. Phase II awards are given to companies that successfully complete phase I and can be used for R&D work as the developer moves to commercializing their invention.
The Small Business Technology Transfer Program or SBTT is very similar to SBIR, but the grants are specifically designed to fund public/private collaborations between nonprofit research institutions and small businesses that want to develop commercial applications for technologies developed by those institutions. The SBTT program uses the same Phase I and Phase II funding formula as SBIR. Eligible nonprofit research institutions include U.S.-based nonprofit colleges or universities, domestic nonprofit research organizations, and federally funded R&D centers. The University of Hawaii would be an eligible institution for SBTT grants.
Last year, when the House prohibited Members of Congress from seeking earmarks for private companies, I worried about the effect this would have on small high technology companies in Hawaii and throughout the country. I've been so impressed by the innovative scientists and engineers I've met and have proudly sought earmarks in the past to further their work. In the absence of earmarks, I believe that strengthening the SBIR and SBTT programs is our best chance to provide the opportunities these creative entrepreneurs need to create new businesses and products that will provide good jobs, strengthen our economy, and improve our quality of life.
In his State of the Union address last night, President Obama highlighted the importance of encouraging private sector innovation to spur economic growth and exports. Passing my bills to strengthen SBIR and SBTT would be a good first step.