Today, Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) helped pass legislation out of the Senate Small Business & Entrepreneurship Committee that invests in technological innovation in high-tech small businesses. The SBIR (Small Business Innovation Research)/ STTR (Small Business Technology Transfer) Reauthorization Act of 2011 (S. 493) helps sustain the flow of capital to job-creating small businesses. The legislation passed out of committee by a vote of 18 to 1 and now heads to the full Senate.
In the last decade, the SBIR program has invested nearly half a billion dollars in more than 1,000 high-tech small businesses in Washington state. Technology-based industries make up 13 percent of the state's private sector employment workforce, or more than 380,000 people.
"These job creating programs help get promising small businesses with promising technologies through the so-called "valley of death' that too often exists between a good idea and a great product," said Senator Cantwell."Washington state has long been a leader in technology research and commercialization. This legislation will help leverage our research base to generate new commercial opportunities that grow our economy and create jobs."
In 2009, Washington state received 129 SBIR/STTR awards valued at nearly $50 million, according to the Washington Technology Center. Some examples of SBIR/STTR-funded technologies nationwide include communication antennas for first responders in disaster zones, vehicles for fire fighters combating wildfires, sensors used to detect brain injuries for high school athletes, and electric toothbrushes. SBIR funding supported the creation of the SONICARE Power toothbrush at Snoqualmie, Washington-based Optiva Corporations, which helped the company grow into a $300 million business with more than 500 jobs created.
Congress created SBIR in 1982 and STTR in 1992 to stimulate technological innovation in small, high technology firms to meet federal research and development (R&D) needs while increasing private sector commercialization. Today, 11 federal agencies allocate a portion of their R&D budgets to invest in small business projects. The last comprehensive extension for the programs was 2000 and 2001, respectively. The programs have received numerous temporary extensions since they expired in 2008. The SBIR/STTR Reauthorization Act of 2011 represents the first long-term reauthorization since the year 2000 and would provide certainty to the SBIR and STTR programs if enacted into law.