Stimulating Innovation


U.S. small businesses that lack financial, material, and/or expert resources to develop and commercialize new technologies can turn to the federal Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) and Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) programs, the country’s largest source of early stage research and development funding for small business. The goal of the programs is to stimulate and commercialize technological innovation, especially among minority- and women-owned businesses. 


Federal agencies participating in the two programs award a portion of their innovation R&D budget in the form of grants to startups and small businesses to carry out cutting-edge scientific research and development in line with federal objectives. Historically Black Colleges and Universities also are recipients of SBIR/STTR funding. Highly competitive, the grants are awarded for feasibility studies and related R&D only. Grant recipients are required to raise funds from other sources to commercialize new technologies resulting from the funded research. 


The U.S. Small Business Administration’s Office of Technology promotes the SBIR and STTR programs through training and information exchange, with particular emphasis on introducing women- and minority-owned small businesses to the advantages of competing for federal R&D projects. At state level, the Federal and State Technology Partnership (FAST) Program, a competitive grants program, supports SBIR and STTR. Under FAST, all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Guam and the American Samoa receive federal funding to provide technical assistance and other services to small high-tech businesses. 


The annual National SBIR/STTR Conference, offers a platform for small businesses to learn how to participate in the SBIR and STTR programs, including how to prepare proposals for funding; and to interact with government SBIR/STTR program managers and staff. 


Legislation establishing the SBIR and STTR programs followed the Federal Technology Transfer Act of 1986 allowing technology transfers from federal agencies to external parties (academia, businesses, individual researchers, state and local governments, trade associations, and foreign governments and businesses).    


Licensing technologies. Each agency publishes a list or catalog of its patented technologies that are available for licensing, usually available for download on the agency’s website. 


Research collaboration. Agencies collaborate with external parties on research projects and share research materials under cooperative research and development agreements (CRADA), allowing the external partners to utilize the agencies’ labs, scientists and engineers, license patented technologies and bring new technologies to the marketplace. Collaboration also may take the form of a “materials transfer agreement,” or MTA, a one-way transfer of research materials from federal agencies to external research partners. 


Collaboration under a “materials CRADA,” or MCRADA (combining an MTA and a CRADA), involves a transfer of research materials and/or data, and a certain amount of collaborative research. 


Partnership intermediaries. Federal agencies establish partnership intermediary agreements to identify new technologies in the private sector that they can utilize, and to facilitate joint projects with private companies and academic institutions, including HBCUs, to speed up enhancement of the country’s technological capabilities.