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Reforming the Department of Energy’s Small Business Innovation Programs

This report is a product of the American Energy Innovators Network (AEIN) and provides recommendations aimed at helping the Department of Energy better support small businesses engaged in energy-related innovation and technology transfer. Specifically, we focus on opportunities to strengthen DOE’s implementation of the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs. Both programs operate across multiple federal agencies and are intended to stimulate technology innovation and engagement in basic research and research and development (R/R&D) by domestic small businesses. Note that our recommendations do not address SBIR/STTR implementation by the Advanced Research Projects Agency–Energy (ARPA–E), which runs a separate process. The recommendations in this report are based on literature surveys and feedback from experts within the small business community, including energy startups and venture capitalists who are part of AEIN.

Part I of this report reviews the goals and structure of DOE’s SBIR/STTR program, and highlights some of the strengths and challenges of the Department’s current approach to SBIR/STTR implementation. Part II focuses on opportunities for program improvement and reform at DOE, which includes five key recommendations:

  • Align program staffing and management with SBIR/STTR goals.
  • Bolster support for underrepresented and first-time applicants.
  • Reform SBIR/STTR application processes.
  • Align application review and selection criteria with all SBIR/STTR goals.
  • Develop robust metrics of success and report results publicly.

Part III turns to recommendations for improving the SBIR/STTR program that would require legislative action by Congress. This section makes the case for three key reforms:

  • Enable less restrictive SBIR/STTR topic areas.
  • Allow flexibility for commercialization assistance.
  • Remove eligibility restrictions.
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