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News & Media

APLU VP Martin Testifies Before Congress on How Public Universities Help Drive Small Business Innovation

February 11, 2020

Washington, DC – APLU's Vice President for Economic Development and Community Engagement Sheila Martin testified before the House Subcommittee on Innovation and Workforce Development Hearing today on “The Innovation Pipeline: from Universities to Small Businesses.” Martin's remarks explained how universities fuel small business innovation. The following are the prepared remarks she delivered before the committee.

[Read Martin's Written Testimony for the Committee; Watch Her Testimony]

Chairman Crow, Ranking Member Balderson, and members of the subcommittee, good morning and thank you for the opportunity to testify. It is an honor to be with you today—on National Inventors Day.

My name is Sheila Martin and I am the Vice President for Economic Development and Community Engagement at the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities. The subject of today’s hearing is important to public and land-grant universities who work with small businesses to improve their success in three important ways:

  • The first is talent: the most important form of technology transfer happens when companies hire university graduates. When our students participate in federally funded research, they benefit by learning about scientific discovery, participating in cutting-edge research, and working in teams. And they bring this knowledge to the companies they work for.
     
  • The second way public research universities work with small businesses is through innovation: the discovery that generates new products, greater productivity, and entirely new industries – while solving important problems.
     
  • Third, universities are important to improving the quality of life in their local communities. They generate prosperous economies, offer cultural activities, enrich civic life, and partner with local organizations to address important community issues. And thriving regions are a magnet for the talent that small businesses need to innovate and flourish.

University Innovation: The Long View
In thinking about the innovation pipeline, we need to take the long view. We can’t always predict what area of basic research will lead to an invention that transforms our economy, cures a widespread disease, or allows us to lead more fulfilling lives.

Because the benefits of basic research are so diffuse and long-term, few private sector companies will fund it. Therefore, it makes economic sense that basic research is funded by federal agencies. Maintaining or increasing that federal basic research funding is essential to ensuring that the fount of scientific knowledge that feeds the innovation pipeline to small businesses continues to flow.

Universities’ Innovations Drive Small Company Success
University researchers are anxious to see their discoveries put into practice. But before those ideas reach the market, someone must invest in the engineering, design, and market research that is necessary for commercial success. That is why programs like the Small Businesses Innovation Research (SBIR) and the Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs are so important. They provide funding to help companies work through some of the more difficult technical risks, evaluate the market potential, and take ideas to the point where the private sector is ready to invest.

Public and land-grant universities are important sources of both ideas and talent for the companies that benefit from SBIRs and STTRs. Empirical studies of these programs demonstrate that a university connection to an SBIR project increases the probability that the SBIR grant will lead to a successful commercialized technology. While there are many examples of companies that have successfully used an SBIR grant to commercialize a university technology, I will highlight two here, and more are provided in my written testimony.

Solid Power, a Louisville, Colorado company that spun out of the University of Colorado at Boulder, is developing solid state battery technology for the electric vehicle market. Its SBIR awards have led to successful funding by strategic investors. These federal investment have laid the groundwork for progress in clean mobility and success for this small firm.

Core Quantum Technologies is a Columbus, Ohio firm that developed a method for speeding diagnosis and identification of cancer treatment options. The company’s founder is Professor Jessica Winter from The Ohio State University’s College of Engineering. She benefited from Ohio State’s NSF-funded ADVANCE program, which develops the entrepreneurial capacity of women faculty. It helped her start her company, win an SBIR grant, and connect to additional investors.

That project also illustrates the importance of programs that diversify STEM fields and provide resources for women, minority, and student entrepreneurs so that they, too can be successful with SBIR. Because as great as they are, SBIR and STTR are not enough. Funding for basic research and complementary programs such as NIH-Reach program, NSF I-corps, EDA’s Regional Innovation Strategies, and NIST’s Manufacturing Extension Partnership, and Manufacturing USA are also important.

Conclusion
APLU and its member universities are grateful for the committee’s support for these programs. To see for yourself how our universities are supporting the university-small business innovation pipeline, I invite all of meet the inventors at the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Showcase, sponsored jointly by APLU and the Association of American Universities. The event takes place on April 28 at 5 PM here in the Rayburn Building, in the Cafeteria. I look forward to seeing you there.

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