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Tag: SBIR

SBIR Reauthorization Effort Continues to be at Standstill

Written by on Tuesday, January 12th, 2010

Despite ongoing negotiations in the Senate and House throughout 2009, the new year is beginning with the SBIR reauthorization effort at a continued standstill.

While Congress did successfully save the SBIR/STTR from extinction by implementing a series of five continuing resolutions (“CR”) since the authorization expired back in September 2008, no permanent solution has been reached and the current CR is set to expire on January 31, 2010.  Thus, the SBIR/STTR programs continue to be in limbo.

If you have been following this issue at all and are familiar with the SBIR/STTR programs, you may be wondering why these programs continue to be in a perpetual state of almost extinction.

According to the SBIR Gateway, which has been covering this issue, the problem is that the Senate and the House cannot agree on the terms of a reauthorization bill.  There are apparently eight issues that are still being debated:

  1. Length of reauthorization;
  2. Venture capital participation in SBIR;
  3. Award levels;
  4. Sequential Phase II award;
  5. Retention of Phase I requirement;
  6. Allocation increase;
  7. Administrative funds; and
  8. Rural and state outreach.

SBIR Gateway attributes the problems to the fact that ” the more the Senate was willing to compromise, the more the House wanted” and asserts that the “House Small Business Committee under the leadership of Nydia Velazquez and her staffer Michael Day wanted to hold the SBIR program hostage.”  According to SBIR Gateway, a key issue is that Velazquez is receiving large campaign contributions from the National Venture Capital Association (“NVCA”) and biotech investors, and they are the groups who would stand to benefit from the House Bill the most.   So, the argument is that Velazquez is unwilling to agree to more than a two year reauthorization for this very reason.

Regardless of what is going on here, it is clear that the whole SBIR reauthorization effort has become bogged down in politics and has been therefore left on the backburner.  Based on what I personally have observed this past year, I would argue that this seems to be the current state of affairs for anything involving small business: Congress seems to have put small businesses in general on the backburner for whatever reason, despite the fact that small businesses, which include biotech companies and other start-ups, provide the majority of jobs in this country and unemployment as well as underemployment continues to be the overarching concern of most Americans today. So, small businesses have largely been left to fend for themselves through this recession and deal with the fact that access to capital has all but dried up, while Congress has been out bailing out banks, failed auto companies, and other “too big to fail” institutions–which employ only a small percentage of the nation’s workforce–with our taxpayer dollars.

Does any of this really make sense?

The California Biotech Law Blog would like to see Congress to reassess its priorities in 2010:  it is time to put the focus on small business.   I am certain that many of you in the biotech community would agree that getting serious about finally passing a  SBIR/STTR reauthorization bill would be a good start.

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Congress Reaches Compromise to Extend SBIR

Written by on Monday, March 16th, 2009

The House and Senate have reached a compromise to extend SBIR through July 31, 2009, according to a report that broke late this evening by the SBIR Insider.

The SBIR Insider reports that the House will originate the bill and that the legislation will amend PL 110-235 (the current CR), which expires on March 20, 2009.

The compromise was announced on the same day that President Obama announced his new plan to assist small businesses.  The President’s plan is intended to unfreeze the credit markets for small businesses by providing additional liquidity and guarantees of small business loans, and to also reduce lending fees and provide tax breaks for small businesses.

As the California Biotech Law Blog previously reported, support for SBIR reauthorization has been waning in Congress and there were genuine concerns that Congress would let the SBIR expire without taking action to save it before the March 20th deadline.  Apparently there was a last minute change of heart, however, with the President’s announcement today of his plans to help small businesses.

Of course, this bill has not yet been signed, so it is not yet a done deal.  The California Biotech Law Blog will keep you posted as any news breaks on this effort.

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SBIR/STTR Program Set to Expire Later This Month; Support for Reauthorization Waning

Written by on Wednesday, March 4th, 2009

As we reported previously, he SBIR/STTR program is set to expire on March 20th of this month, unless Congress takes last minute emergency action to save it.

Unfortunately,  SBIR Insider author Rick Shindell reports that there is growing opposition in Congress to saving the SBIR/STTR program.

In fact, the idea of even providing funding for the SBIR/STTR program was rejected with the passage of the Stimulus Bill in Congress, where according to The SBIR Coach’s Blog, a provision that would have provided the SBIR/STTR programs $250 million was struck at the last minute from the bill and language was inserted which explicitly precluded the NIH from using the stimulus money for the SBIR/STTR programs.

Does this really make sense?  Regardless of how you feel about the Stimulus Bill that was passed, does it make sense to exclude funding for small businesses from a bill that is supposed to stimulate the economy and create jobs?

The SBIR Coach’s Blog voices its opinion on this issue as follows:

What were they thinking? As Ann said in her alert, “Such an exclusion is underhanded and entirely inappropriate.” There’s the understatement of the year (so far)!

Entirely inappropriate for sure. Does it make sense for the NIH to not seek additional innovative solutions from our small businesses — a sector hailed by President Obama himself as being the most likely one to create the jobs that we so desperately need? 2.5% +0.3% of $7.4B is $207.2M that’s been inappropriately withheld from our small businesses. That could be used to create a whole bunch of jobs!

And underhanded to boot! They snuck the wording into the fine print in “code” so we wouldn’t spot it. A search for “SBIR” or “STTR” won’t turn anything up.

While I agree that the SBIR/STTR program is far from perfect, and I have been critical of the whole SBA program in the past based on my personal experiences with the SBA in trying to secure loans for my business, it is my personal opinion that, at a time like this when the economy seems to many of us to be in freefall, reauthorizing SBIR/STTR should be a no-brainer.  Why wouldn’t Congress want to maintain support for small businesses, which, in my opinion, are the lifeblood of our economy?  Moreover, why in the world wouldn’t Congress want to include funding for small business programs like the SBIR/STTR in a huge spending bill intended to stimulate the economy?

I can tell you personally that it is nothing short of impossible right now to secure funding for a small business, period.  The help seems to be going to Detroit, the banking system, and AIG, as well as to all kinds of random programs in various states across the country (which to be honest, have made me scratch my head a little bit and wonder why we are funding many of them with taxpayer dollars),  but there is little or nothing that small businesses can do right now  to get access to additional funding.  Supposedly there is some provision that did make it into the Stimulus Bill which will free up some funding fo help small businesses refinance debt, but this funding is not yet in effect and most small businesses have yet to get much in the way of details on this particular program.

So, back to the topic of the SBIR/STTR program, which will shortly expire: in this economic climate,  why in the world  isn’t Congress acting to ensure that this doesn’t happen?

Your guess is as good as mine.  However, the bottom line is that the expiration of SBIR/STTR is all but a done deal now.  If this is a concern to you, you have 16 days left to take action and get your voice heard by Congress.  Perhaps there is still time to save this program from extinction.

Rick Shindell has provided a list of instructions for how to get your voice heard on this issue:

Develop a brief message urging an SBIR extension for a year, stating its importance to you, your business and community. Stress that a collapse of SBIR could be catastrophic not just for you, but the entire high tech small business community. Stress that SBIR community is a pillar of America’s innovation and economic stimulus . Do it in your own words because boilerplate language is far less effective.

  1. Call your Senators, both their local and DC offices. http://www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm
  2. Call your Representative, both their local and DC offices. http://www.house.gov/house/MemberWWW.shtml
  3. Go to their web sites and use the email or webmail links to send them your message.
  4. Contact the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship info@small-bus.senate.gov – 202-224-5175
  5. Contact the House Small Business Committee (202) 225-4038 www.house.gov/smbiz/
  6. Contact the House Committee on Science (202) 225-6375 – http://science.house.gov/contact/contact_generalform.shtml
  7. Go to the President’s web site at http://www.whitehouse.gov/contact/
  8. Write to your local newspapers, TV and radio stations.
  9. Work with other small business groups to form a united effort.

The California Biotech Law Blog will continue to keep you posted on any new developments on this issue, and will let you know if there seems to be any movement towards saving the program.

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Life Sciences Companies Spent Record Amount on Lobbying Efforts in 2007

Written by on Tuesday, June 24th, 2008

The Baltimore Business Journal is reporting that life sciences companies spent a record amount on lobbying efforts in 2007–some 32 percent more in 2007 than in 2006.

The Baltimore Business Journal reported:

The industry unleashed a $168 million lobbying effort last year, the largest among all sectors and 90 percent of which was dominated by three biotech and pharmaceutical trade groups and 40 global companies. . . . Among top company spenders were British-based AstraZeneca PLC, which owns Gaithersburg-based MedImmune and tallied $4.1 million in lobbying efforts, and Israel-based Teva Pharmaceuticals, which owns Rockville-based CoGenesys and tallied $2.3 million. Amgen Inc., based in Thousand Oaks, Calif., topped the company list with a $16.3 million total contribution last year.

As the California Biotech Law Blog previously reported, BIO spent $6.6 million in lobbying efforts in 2007.

According to The Baltimore Business Journal, the industry’s investment seems to “have paid off.”

Was the investment really dollars well spent?  Well, clearly the industry has had some success with respect to delaying the passage of patent reform legislation, which was largely viewed as being more favorable to high tech companies than biotech companies.  Likewise, the lobbying efforts seem to have had some success in the SBIR area, as we previously reported in a recent blog posting.  So, the industry has definitely seen some success in Washington this past year, although that success has not been felt uniformly across the board.

There is no doubt that having a voice in Washington is taking on increasing importance for the life sciences industry, particularly in light of the lobbying efforts of the technology world.  It seems likely that the industry’s investment in lobbying will continue to grow in the near future, as the topic of health care reform continues to be a key political issue and the interests of technology and life sciences companies continue to diverge.  As I’ve suggested before, however, it is rather stunning to consider how much money that has to be invested these days in order to maintain a presence in Washington politics: $168 million is certainly not pocket change.

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House Committee Holds Hearing to Consider Modernizing SBIR Program

Written by on Monday, March 31st, 2008

Following up on our February 4th report on the debate regarding the future of the SBIR Program,  the House Committee on Small Business held a hearing on March 13th to consider changes to modernize the program, according to a press release issued by the House Committee on Small Business.  SBA Administrator Steven Preston was subpoenaed to appear before the Committee.

The chief items up for consideration by the Committee were as follows: (i) increasing size limits on SBIR grants during the first two phases of the program, potentially doubling the size of the awards, and (ii) changing the definition of small business to include businesses majority-owned by venture capital firms, reported Kent Hoover for the Dallas Business Journal

Hoover reported on the second topic of consideration:

The committee also wants to change the SBA’s rules defining what types of companies qualify as a small business in order to allow small companies that are majority-owned by venture capital firms to receive SBIR awards.

These types of companies routinely received SBIR awards until 2003, when the SBA ruled that venture capital firms don’t qualify as individuals under the agency’s eligibility rules for the SBIR program. . .  . Many biotech companies contend the ruling ignores the realities of their industry, where small businesses must get outside capital in order to research and develop new drugs and other treatments. The Biotechnology Industry Organization and the National Venture Capital Association have been lobbying Congress to overturn the SBA’s ruling. . . . .

The House overwhelming passed legislation last September to allow small companies majority-owned by VC firms to be eligible for SBIR awards as long as no single VC owned more than 50 percent. The Senate didn’t act on the bill, so the House is taking another stab at it this year.

BioOptics World ran an article this month on the SBA reauthorization battle.  I was actually interviewed for the article, but my interview did not make it into the published article.  Anyway, Author Susan Reiss reported as follows on the status of SBA reauthorization:

One Hill observer says that the venture-capital issue will boil down to whether Congress wants to emphasize the “S” or the “B” in SBIR. At this point the House and Senate don’t agree on whether they should change the program to address the venture-capital issue. A bill introduced last fall by John Kerry (D-Mass.), chairman of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, and ranking member Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) that tried to bridge a middle ground passed in the Senate but failed in the House. An alternative bill was approved in the House, but failed in the Senate.

This year the Senate has yet to hold hearings on SBIR reauthorization, although an aide to Kerry on the Small Business Committee says Kerry is committed to reauthorizing the program. . . .

Reiss further noted:

To lessen impact of the venture-capital issue, some observers have suggested creating a separate program for innovation development at NIH. “NIH is concerned about the path to commercialization. Instead of trying to fit a square peg in a round hole, let’s look at a commercialization program,” suggests James Morrison, a senior advisor for the Small Business Technology Council.

But the chance that someone will devise an entirely new program that addresses the needs of NIH is unlikely. At this point it’s unclear where on the spectrum the House and Senate will meet to reauthorize SBIR, but as Brown notes, “it would be devastating to have a gap in the program.”

Video of the hearing and and copies of written testimony by witnesses are available for review at the Small Business Committee website.

I am interested to hear any comments on the current proposal to the House Committee.  It is a well-established fact that BIO strongly supports the idea of changing the SBIR rules to allow venture-backed companies to recieve SBIR grants.   But the Dallas Business Journal article suggests that some biotech companies may actually oppose BIO’s position.  Is there any truth to this?  If you oppose the changing the rules to allow venture-backed companies to participate, I would like to hear your argument.  Please write us and let us know your position. 

Also, what about the idea of developing a new program at NIH?  Is this a workable or even advisable solution?  Why or why not?  Any comments we receive on this issue will be shared with blog readers, so we welcome the feedback.

 

 

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Debating the Future of the SBIR Program

Written by on Monday, February 4th, 2008

Given the impending expiration of the SBIR Program this October, 2008, the future of the SBIR Program is once again being re-visited.

As The California Biotech Law Blog reported last October, the biotech industry has been actively lobbying for the Small Business Administration ("SBA") to reverse its decision of January, 2001 to make venture-backed companies ineligible for SBIR grants.  This issue, by far, has received the most press in recent years, and of course, is the issue receiving the most attention as the expiration date nears.  The rule excludes many if not most biotech companies from being able to take advantage of SBIR funding, which of course is a serious concern to the industry as a whole. 

Interestingly enough, even the more established pharmaceutical industry has been very vocal on this issue.  While at first glance, this concern seems a bit misplaced, on further consideration, it makes perfect sense that pharma would support biotech’s efforts to change the SBA’s policy.  It is a well-known fact that pharma is looking to biotech companies to supply new products to fill its drug pipeline, which is increasingly becoming depleted.  The more money these companies can access at the early stages, the more likely it will be that enough biotech companies will survive to fill that pharma need.

So, while the issue of excluding venture-backed companies from SBIR grants is taking center stage to the renewal debate, I would argue that Congress should look beyond that stage at some more fundamental problems with the program as it debates SBIR’s future.

What are those problems?

First and foremost, there has never been a good clarification of the SBIR Program’s priorities. 

The SBIR Program falls under the umbrella of the SBA, which according to its website, has a mission based on the following principles:

Creativity  Our people inspire creativity in the American economy by developing and supporting entrepreneurs through a vast network of resource partners.

Advocate  We advocate for all small businesses by taking leadership in building a productive partnership between the American people and its government.

Results  Our team focuses on delivering results for small business, being accountable, accessible and responsive.

Empower  We empower the spirit of entrepreneurship within every community to promote and realize the American dream.

Success
We facilitate the environment necessary for America’s small businesses to succeed, measuring our performance by small business success.

Based on the principles listed on the SBA’s website, it is clear that its chief mission is to support entrepreneurism and thereby help the economy.  A second mission is to help promote. women, minorities, and socio-disadvantaged businesses.

In contrast, the SBIR’s mission is a little less clear.  The SBIR’s website describes the mission of the SBIR and its companion program, the STTR ("Small Business Technology Transfer"), as follows:

Through these two competitive programs, SBA ensures that the nation’s small, high-tech, innovative businesses are a significant part of the federal government’s research and development efforts. . . .

Contrary to the mission of the SBA, the stated mission of the SBIR seems to focus on supporting research and development rather than entrepreneurism.  Yet, the SBIR falls under the umbrella of the SBA.  

This dual and somewhat conflicting dichotomy of SBA and SBIR missions is played out in practical ways through the program as well. 

For example, Phase I awards are made at the complete discretion of the participating government agencies on research and development grounds and Phase II awards are made on the basis of the scientific and technical merit of an idea.  In contrast, Phase III awards are made on commercial viability grounds and require the use of private funds.

Additionally, there is evidence to suggest that university spin-offs may  be one of the primary recipients of SBIR grants rather than other types of businesses, which may have more of a commercial and less of an academic or research and development emphasis. 

In fact, even the debate as to whether accepting venture funds should exclude companies from being able to accept SBIR awards reflects this issue, since if the focus of the program was on successfully commercializing small businesses, then presumably the notion of supplementing private funds with public funds would be preferred rather than prohibited.

A second problem with the program is that there is inadequate data to measure the SBIR Program’s success.  The Government Accountability Office ("GAO") published a report in October, 2006 outlining the SBIR Program’s failures in collecting data from each of the agencies participating in the Program.  One of the conclusions of the GAO was that the "SBA is Five Years Behind Schedule in Meeting its Obligation to Implement a Government-Use SBIR Database."  How do you judge the success of anything without adequate data to draw any significant conclusions?

A third problem with the SBIR Program is that there is evidence to suggest that certain organizations are repeatedly winning many of the awards and that those organizations may have succeeded in achieving the status of becoming SBIR award mills by learning how to successfully work the system.  Is this really what was intended by Congress and the SBA?

All in all, it is safe to say that SBIR is riddled with some fundamental problems that Congress would be wise to address as it evaluates the Program’s future.  While there is no doubt that the SBIR Program plays a valuable role in early -stage biotech start-ups, the industry should perhaps consider redirecting its efforts toward clarifying the goals of the Program and generating useful data over focusing on the more narrow issue of overturning the prohibition on making awards to venture-backed companies. 

 

 

 

 

 

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Health Advocacy and Medical Specialty Groups Lobby Congress to Change Rules on SBIR Eligibility

Written by on Thursday, October 18th, 2007

Health Advocacy and Medical Specialty Groups Submitted a letter to Congress today arguing for Congress to rethink its position on SBIR eligibility in its upcoming consideration of the reauthorization of the Small Business Innovation Research ("SBIR") program.

As we previously reported in Congress to Consider SBIR Funding Increase , the SBIR program is set to expire in 2008, and Congress is currently considering legislation that would increase the amount that federal agencies with large research and development budgets would have to set aside for SBIR funding. 

The letter sent to Congress today articulated the position of biotech companies that the SBIR eligibility rules should be amended to reinstate funding for majority venture capital-backed companies:

After twenty years of participating in the program, the Small Business Administration (SBA) ruled in 2003 that small companies that are majority venture capital-backed could no longer apply for grants regardless of how few employees the companies have.  Because of the unique capital needs of biotechnology companies, most are now ineligible to be compete for grants.  As a result of the reinterpretation, the SBIR applicant pool is shrinking at the National Institutes of Health ("NIH)," and work on live-saving and life-enhancing technology is being postponed. . . .

Small biotechnology companies take basic scientific discoveries,  many of which originate from universities, and conduct further research and development to turn discoveries into commerically available treatments and cures. This collaborative relationship is one of the ways universities and academic researchers serve the public by contributing to the development of new treatments and cures and supporting the local economy.  Small biotechnology companies require significant venture capital investment, and unfortunately the SBA reinterpretation of the eligibility rules has hampered the continued research and development into biotechnology products, thereby delaying the delivery of future treatments to patients.

Fifty-two organizations signed the letter to Congress, including the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation, the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkison’s Research, and the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

 

 

 

 

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Congress To Consider SBIR Funding Increase

Written by on Wednesday, September 5th, 2007

Congress is set to consider an increase to SBIR funding, according to a recent report by Mass High Tech: The Journal of New England Technology.

Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., introduced the legislation, which would increase from 2.5 to 5% by 2013 the amount that federal agencies with large research and development budgets would have to set aside for SBIR funding.

Mass High Tech: The Journal of New England Technology reported on the significance of the SBIR program as follows:

The SBIR program — which doled out $1.9 billion nationwide in 2005 — is a major source of federal funding for early-stage technology development in the United States. The grants are used to explore the feasibility of technologies sought by government agencies, including the U.S. Department of Energy and the U.S. Department of Defense.

Supporters of the SBIR budget increase include biotechnology executives who argue that the funding fills the gap left by declining venture capital investment in the early-stage firms.

Of course, the article points out that the debate on the legislation will likely focus on the role of venture capital firms, since companies majority-owned by large venture-capital backed firms do not qualify for SBIR awards.

The SBIR program is currently set to expire in 2008.

Read the rest of this entry »

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